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News report on video visits in TX cites PLN article

CBS, Oct. 26, 2014.


Video-Only Prison Visits A Profitable Replacement For Texas Jails

October 23, 2014 11:32 AM


Addison, Texas (CBS Houston) – A Texas company has found profit in replacing face-to-face prison visits with video-only visitation that charges callers by the minute.

Securus Technologies markets its video system as a convenient tool for distant family members to interact with their incarcerated members of their family. The Texas Observer reports that Securus “charges callers as much as a dollar a minute” for its video services, with the jails receiving a 20 to 25 percent cut of the revenue. Several prisons have set to eliminate face-to-face visitation altogether, replacing them with the video visitation system.

“We believe Securus sees Texas county jails as a really ripe market for them,” said Kymberlie Quong Charles, an organizer with the prison reform group Grassroots Leadership.

Bastrop County Jail is set to eliminate all face visits in November, with visitors instead given the choice of using a free video terminal at the jail, or paying a $1-a-minute use of the remote video system. In Austin, a lawsuit against the Travis County Jail claimed that Securus was unlawfully recording conversations between prisoners and their attorneys – and then leaking the video to the prosecutor’s office.

“What we found is that everything they said would happen in terms of improving conditions has actually gotten worse,” Charles told The Texas Observer. “I think people are frustrated, they’re not getting to see anybody.”

On Sept. 9, the Dallas County Commissioners Court unanimously rejected a proposal that would have ended all face-to-face visits with prisoners at the Dallas County Jail after a series of complaints from prisoners’ rights groups. County Judge Clay Jenkins echoed the sentiments of Texas CURE, former state Rep. Terri Hodge and Richard Miles, a former Texas prisoner exonerated after a wrongful murder conviction.

Securus Technologies was on the brink of the contract for the video visitation system with the deal offering the county a 25 percent commission on the video revenue – which included charging $10 for each 20-minute visit.

“It is a way to make money … off the backs of families,” said Jenkins. “I am very pleased with the court today in looking at these commissions and saying that they want to get out of the commission business.”

But in response to legal issues, the Commissioners Court renewed contract negotiations with Securus at the Dallas County Jail. The contract with Securus may also extend to phone services at the jail, which currently include commission payments. In 2013, Dallas County reportedly received $2.8 million in phone commissions – a practice that has also drawn criticism,Prison Legal News reports.

“It is very important that we do not profit on the backs of inmates in the jail,” stated Commissioner Elba Garcia.

A report from the Grassroots Leadership and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition notes that personal visits improve jail security and lower recidivism rates.

“Video-only visitation policies ignore best practices that call for face-to-face visits to foster family relationships,” the report argues. “They advance arguments about security that are dubious, not rooted in research, and may be counter-productive.”