Prisoners who now make local phone calls for free will have to start paying $1 for each local call under a plan approved Friday by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.
The commission waived a regulation that normally puts a 25-cent limit on local calls. It approved the rate plan offered by Securus, a private company that operates in 46 states. It has an exclusive contract with the Department of Corrections in Alaska to serve 14 jails.
While the commission said Securus ?"has never specificially tracked Alaska-based costs," the agency agreed that charging $1 per call for inmates is reasonable. The Alaska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union had argued that a per-minute charge of 7 cents would be reasonable.
Securus filed the request to charge $1 after a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission cut back on the practice of charging higher rates for interstate calls.
"Securus asserts that this new rate is to cover its costs in providing inmate local calling services in accord with the security requirements" of jails, the regulatory panel said.
The company plans to install a new centralized system to replace old equipment in each jail that is no longer serviced by the manufacturer. "It is only a matter of time before a failure will occur," the company told the RCA.
The new equipment will include call blocking, duration limits, centralized recording, "investigative capabilities" and other features.
The company said it would offer monthly allowances for indigent inmates. Free calls to public defenders, the state ombudsman and other entities would still be available.
RCA said the burden of paying for phone service often falls on families, not on inmates. It said the contract is a "constructive monopoly," which wipes out "any competitive market pressure" and that future rate changes will require a detailed study of Alaska costs,
The agency said the company has not complied with a past order to file financial statements about revenue, expenses and assets. "We reiterate the directive," the RCA said.