Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Cost of Alaska Prison Calls May Rise to $2

State utility regulators have delayed a Texas-based company's proposal to collect $2 for local calls made by Alaska prison inmates.

Prison calls cost more because officials need to monitor, record and potentially block inmates' calls, according to the Department of Corrections.

Dallas-based Evercom Systems Inc. applied to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska to start charging the fee Sept. 15. Evercom is partnered in much of Alaska with Anchorage-based GCI and has a contract to provide phone security for the Alaska Department of Corrections.

State regulators are investigating whether the $2 fee is reasonable.

The fee won't be charged at least until after regulators hold an evidentiary hearing, which hasn't been scheduled. The RCA asked the phone companies to show costs proving the fee was reasonable and held a public meeting Sept. 11.

Statute requires the RCA to rule on the matter by August 2009.

The fee wouldn't be charged for the "one free phone call," calls to public defenders or calls from phones in booking areas.

Long-distance calls from prison already cost more. The corrections department said collect local calls from prisons are common nationwide.

Bail bondsmen, an ankle monitoring company, a defense attorney and an inmate were among those who complained about the proposed fee in written comments or public testimony.

Defense attorney Randal Cavanaugh testified that his bills to state and federal agencies would go up to cover extra costs. He also said the fee was being "disguised" as a phone service: Recordings were being used by state and federal agencies as evidence in court cases.

Commissioners said they could not yet comment on the merits of the case. They said they might not be able to address Cavanaugh's concerns.

"This may turn to a considerable extent on our jurisdiction, the extent to which we can get involved in ... the correctional part of it," RCA commissioner Mark Johnson said.

Rosalie Nadeau, executive director of Akeela Inc., testified that the Akeela House drug rehab program couldn't afford the fees. She also thought that the fee would further isolate inmates and make it more difficult for them to put their post-prison lives back together.

"We get calls every day from prison from inmates, and what they're doing is trying to work on getting out of prison," she said.

One Hiland Mountain Correctional Center inmate identified as "S. Alvarado" hand-wrote regulators that the calls were the only way she could communicate with her family.

"My mom is a widow with grandchildren she can not pay $2 for a 15 min call please find it in your heart for this not to happen," Alvarado wrote.

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