#inSecurus | Ensuring Visitation for Prisoners and their Loved Ones

In January, 2014 Grassroots Leadership became aware that all visits at the Travis County Jail (TX) had been replaced by a video chat system. The company providing the video visits, Securus Technologies, was raking in enormous profits charging families up to $20 for a 20-minute off-site visit (read more of the Travis County Story here). With no other option but to "visit" through a grainy video screen, crucial ties between families and their incarcerated loved ones were being threatened.

For nearly two years, Grassroots Leadership, alongside our community allies, waged a powerful campaign led by those who have experienced video jail visits first-hand and not only brought in-person visits back to Travis County, ​but​ also passed state legislation that will prevent other counties from replacing in-person visits with video chats.   

We assert that video chats are not equivalent to in-person, face-to-face visits; visitors should be given the option whether to utilize video chatting or to see their loved one in person; and those opting to utilize video chats should be protected from being charged exorbitant rates. Visit the links below to learn more and to get involved.

RESEARCH AND RESOURCES

Watch our documentary film, which chronicles the fight for in-person jail visits in Travis County, Texas and connects the dots between private, for-profit interests and incarceration.

Report and Fact sheet co-released by Grassroots Leadership and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition on video visitation at the Travis County Jail  (October 2014):

Prison Policy Initiative national report:

Related Posts

Securus Myth vs. Fact Analysis | PART 1

On a recent visit to the Securus Technology Website I found an interesting and new (to me) page. It appears that Securus is taking note of the advocacy efforts going on around them, compelling them to begin a public relations campaign to address concerns raised by critics of video visitation technology and their company in particular.  This is Part 1 of a blog series that will address some of their myths and facts. They have left too many things out of their equations.

 

Of course, this webpage is found when you click on the corrections portion of their website, not the friends and family section.  While the contracts that Securus acquires are with county and sheriff's offices, the real consumers, those who are paying for the product, are the ones this company  seems to care the least about Read more about Securus Myth vs. Fact Analysis | PART 1.

County Jail Visitation Bill Filed Without Signature, Becomes Law

Austin, TX - Last night HB 549 was filed, making the legislation official law. Authored by Dallas Representative Eric Johnson, and Houston Senator John Whitmire, HB 549 clarifies existing county jail rules stating that the two weekly 20-minute visits afforded to all people in jail are to happen in-person and face-to-face.  The current policy has been in place since 1993. Read more about County Jail Visitation Bill Filed Without Signature, Becomes Law

ACTION ALERT May 19, 2015 | We need you ASAP to protect jail visitation for Texas families!

May 19, 2015
 
The legislative process is long and layered and takes several rounds of engagement before a bill passes.  With your help we have gotten HB 549, a bill that protects the face-to-face visitation rights of people incarcerated at Texas county jails from being replaced with expensive, poor quality video chats, all the way to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.  In order for it to have a chance of passing, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee needs to hear from you TODAY.  (see more background here)
 
Please call and write the members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee ASAP and let them know you support protecting face-to-face visits at County Jails.  Consider reminding them that the Texas debate on the issue has gained national attention, and we have a perfect opportunity to set an important precedent for the rights of incarcerated people and their loved ones.  Below is a brief list of notable state and national media about visitation, video technology and county jails in Texas.  
Read more about ACTION ALERT May 19, 2015 | We need you ASAP to protect jail visitation for Texas families!

May 13, 2015
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The Texas Observer

Lawmakers Could Slow Spread of Video-Only Jail Visitations

Prison phone service companies like Dallas-based Securus Technologies, Inc. have found a new way to profit from their captive audience: video visitation systems. In the last two years, at least 25 county jails in Texas have installed video terminals that allow inmates to chat with friends, family and others on the outside. Like the phone systems, the cost of using the service is steep: up to $1 per minute for a Skype-like chat, not including usage fees and taxes. But the real kicker is that in many cases the video systems are replacing in-person visits.

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Grassroots Leadership has been trying to get in-person visitations restored at the Travis County Jail for almost two years. The group was alerted to the situation there after the Texas Civil Rights Project filed a lawsuit against Securus and the Travis County Sheriff’s Office for allegedly unlawfully recording the video chats. Another lawsuit was filed in March on behalf of Derrick Matthew Rice, a 29-year-old inmate at the Denton County Jail, against Securus, the Denton County Sheriff’s Office, and the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. The suit claims that eliminating in-person visits is a violation of what’s already stipulated in jail standards. Read more about Lawmakers Could Slow Spread of Video-Only Jail Visitations

May 11, 2015
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Texas Tribune

House Gives Tentative OK to Visitation Rights for Inmates

But critics of video visitation have denounced it as a for-profit endeavor that has further disconnected inmates from the outside world. According to Johnson, eliminating in-person visitation has led to an increase in inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assaults in Texas jails. Advocacy groups have also pointed out that not all visitors have the technological literacy required to use the devices and that glitches and poor audio quality are common.

"When jail standards were written, the idea of connecting people by video was not a twinkle in anybody's eye," said Kymberlie Quong Charles, the director of criminal justice programs for Grassroots Leadership, an Austin organization that advocates for inmates. "In our opinion, it is not the equivalent in quality of an in-person visitation." Read more about House Gives Tentative OK to Visitation Rights for Inmates

ACTION ALERT | Take action to protect in person visitation at Texas County Jails!

Several weeks ago we asked you to communicate to members of the House County Affairs Committee your support for HB 549, a bill that protects the face-to-face visitation rights of people incarcerated at Texas county jails from being replaced with expensive, poor quality video chats.  (see more background here) Read more about ACTION ALERT | Take action to protect in person visitation at Texas County Jails!

Apr 30, 2015
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QUARTZ

Are video visits a smart innovation for jails—or yet another way to exploit families?

Crucially, it’s not just the inmates who are being punished when in-person visits are banned, or when the costs of video visits become prohibitive. “There are people on the outside who are living the experience of incarceration with the people who are locked up, who are also not getting a choice in this situation,” said Kymberlie Quong Charles from advocacy group Grassroots Leadership. Read more about Are video visits a smart innovation for jails—or yet another way to exploit families?

Apr 8, 2015
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International Business Times

Video Chats Are Replacing In-Person Jail Visits, While One Tech Company Profits

In 2013, the Federal Communications Commission finally capped prison phone rates, which were notoriously expensive. Securus was one of the many companies that provided this service. However, one area the FCC did not regulate was video visits. Kymberlie Quong Charles, an activist in Texas, says the push toward video visitations is "a way of ensuring profits" that were lost by the 2013 FCC ruling.  Read more about Video Chats Are Replacing In-Person Jail Visits, While One Tech Company Profits

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