Last week the San Antonio Express News posted this article about Bexar County’s imminent transition to video-only visitation at their county jail. Despite outcry from community members, Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau and County Commissioners continue to push the plan forward.
Articles like this have appeared frequently in San Antonio’s major new outlet, with very little scrutiny of the County’s plan to eliminate all in-person jail visits. Opponents of the plan have attempted to weigh in on media coverage with letters to the editor, yet those have remained unpublished thus far. Here’s how we responded to last week’s article.
It's hard to believe that, in a state that set a precedent for protecting the in-person visitation rights of those incarcerated in county jails, Bexar County continues to turn a cold shoulder to those directly impacted by jail visitation who are calling for the preservation of their ability to see loved ones face-to-face. What this article fails to mention is that the intent of HB 549, the law that clarifies the definition of a "visit" at county jail as face-to-face and in-person, is to ensure that best practices for visitation policies are applied, which have proven successful for maintaining family unity and reducing recidivism rates. Bexar County's officials lobbied aggressively for an exemption from the law based exclusively on financial concerns, with little evidence that transitioning to a video-only model will yield similar or better results for prisoners and their families.
Technology should be utilized to improve the experience of those living behind bars, but news story after news story has shown us that video jail visits deepen the divide between families and loved ones when in-person visits are not allowed. Just up the road, Travis County Commissioners took the bold step to pass a county budget that allows the Sheriff to restore in-person visitation, although it also had received an exemption letter from the state. The decision was based on Commissioners' recognition of the injustice suffered by those with no choice but to visit via video.