ACTION ALERT | Visitation rights at Texas county jails are under threat

Call NOW to protect visitation for families and their incarcerated loved ones

Video technology is threatening the visitation rights of people incarcerated at county jails across Texas, and we have a tremendous opportunity today and tomorrow to protect this right.  Please call and email the members of the House County Affairs Committee to let them know why protecting face-to-face visitation for inmates and their families matters to you, and ask them to pass HB 549 which would ensure that those incarcerated at Texas county jails are entitled to face-to-visits twice a week, and their loved ones will not be forced to pay to see them through a video chat service.  The County Affairs Committee will be debating the bill tomorrow morning,Thursday, April 9th.  See below for more background and talking points.

ChairRep. Garnet Colemangarnet.coleman@house.state.tx.us512-463-0524

Vice Chair: Rep. Joe Fariasjoe.farias@house.state.tx.us512-463-0714

Members:

Rep. Dustin Burrowsdustin.burrows@house.state.tx.us512-463-0542

Rep. Ramon Romeroramon.romero@house.state.tx.us512-463-0740

Rep. Leighton Schubertleighton.schubert@house.state.tx.us512-463-0600

Rep. Stuart Spitzerstuart.spitzer@house.state.tx.us512-463-0458

Rep. Jonathan Sticklandjonathan.stickland@house.state.tx.us512-463-0522

Rep. Tony Tinderholttony.tinderholt@house.state.tx.us512-463-0573

Rep. Gene Wugene.wu@house.state.tx.us, 512-46-0492

Please also sign this petition which will be presented during tomorrow’s hearing.  

 

BACKGROUND 

In January 2014 Grassroots Leadership learned that face-to-face visitation at the Travis County Jail had been eliminated and replaced by a video visitation service that charges families to “visit” with their incarcerated loved ones.  Over the last year we have learned of many problems with video visitation that cause us great concern both for incarcerated people and their loved ones who wish to see them.  The bottom line is that video chats are not a replacement for face-to-face visits.  You can learn more about our findings in this report that we co-released with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition last fall.  

Currently there are 23 Texas counties that utilize a video chat service, and 13 of these counties exclusively  use video to provide contact between incarcerated people and their loved ones.  We have an opportunity this legislative session to restore face-to-face visits at all county jails in Texas, and to ensure that face-to-face visits cannot be replaced by a video chats in the future.


TALKING POINTS  

  • Video-only visitation policies place an undue financial burden on families of those incarcerated (frequently the people in the county jail are there because the don’t have the resources to bond out)

  • Counties make themselves vulnerable to costly litigation when face-to-face visitation is replaced by video-only visitation.  There are currently three active lawsuits in Texas that are suing counties, sheriff’s offices, and the company that is selling video chatting to the jails

  • The importance of family bonding during incarceration is proven to be significant to successful reentry and reduction in recidivism, but video visitation impedes this bond

If you have your own story about video visitation, we encourage you to speak from personal experience.