Need to place a call from jail? Do you have any idea how much that costs? 

The Montana Public Service Commission is grappling with the question of how much to charge prisoners for phone calls made from municipal and county detention facilities. The commission opened the issue for public comment on June 19, after the state Legislature's capping of prison phone rates earlier this year. Solicitation of comments closed July 3, and the PSC is now evaluating them.

House Bill 426, introduced by Rep. Jean Price, D-Great Falls, capped the price of phone calls made by state prisons inmates at 10 cents per minute, lowered from 25 cents. But municipal and county detention facilities aren't affected by the new law. Further complicating the issue is the Federal Communications Commission's recent decision to cease its push for lower prison rates nationwide, ending an initiative that had been pressed at least since 2013, according to the Washington Post. That change of direction was implemented shortly after President Donald Trump named Ajit Pai head of the FCC.

That leaves individual states to set their own rates. The current rate cap, set by Montana's PSC in 2015, is $1.16 per minute. Individual city and county detention centers have the authority to charge prisoners any rate up to and including that amount. (The Missoula Sheriff's office was unable to provide the rate that inmates in the Missoula County Detention Center are charged for calls.)

Chris Puyear, communications director for the PSC, says the charges are intended to cover the expense incurred in providing telecommunications to prisoners. Overall use of operator-assisted calls has declined for years, but it remains common in local and state facilities, according to a PSC press release. Puyear says the current rate was calculated by taking the average call rate for operator-assisted calls and adding 50 percent. Excessive rates can be a burden on the families of the incarcerated, who sometimes cover the cost of calls made by inmates, and can make keeping in regular contact costly. A 30-minute phone call at the current rate cap costs about $34.80.

"The largest benefit [to lowering rates] is that it reduces a burden on families who are trying to stay in touch with loved ones who are behind bars," Puyear says. "In many cases we're talking about some of Montana's most vulnerable citizens."

  • Email
  • Favorite
  • Print

Tags: ,

Today | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat
Distinguished Gentlemen's Ride

Distinguished Gentlemen's Ride @ Caras Park

Sun., Sept. 24, 12:30-4 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

Relevant to News

© 2017 Missoula News/Independent Publishing | Powered by Foundation