#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In January, 2014 Grassroots Leadership became aware that all visits at the Travis County Jail (TX) had been replaced by a video chat system.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

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.

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

Grassroots Leadership's roots in prison divestment, Part I: Kymberlie's story

In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s students across the U.S. and Canada kicked off a student-led movement against prison profiteering and the Prison-Industrial Complex more broadly.  By coincidence, long before the trajectory of their professional lives as advocates against our country’s over-reliance on criminalization and immigration detention was clear, two Grassroots Leadership staff members got their organizing feet wet as participants in their respective campus’ campaigns to end university contracts that facilitated prison profiteering,    

We release this three-part series now to harken back to our own roots in the struggle(s) for true justice, and to spotlight the re-emergence of a flourishing prison divestment movement in which students, again, are playing  a central role.  It is in this context that Grassroots Leadership and our long-time partner Enlace, are anchoring major national actions against CCA and the GEO Group, the country’s largest private prison companies, in May 2015.  We hope  that this series will elucidate the historic power that individuals have had on challenging the for-profit prison industry, and to compel participation in the exciting events on the horizon.

Kymberlie's Story, Earlham College, Class of ‘02

Read more about Grassroots Leadership's roots in prison divestment, Part I: Kymberlie's story

Ire Against Video Visitation at Texas County Jails Mounts

Denton, TX — The law offices of Bodkin, Niehaus, & Dickson, PLLC filed a class action lawsuit today against Securus Technologies Holdings, Inc, alleging that the Company’s requirement that the county eliminate in person visitation in favor of a video-only option using solely Securus’ services provides Securus with a monopoly in violation of state and federal law.  The intention of the suit is to motivate Denton County to allow various forms of visitation, and perhaps return to previous visitation policies that permitted free, face-to-face visitation.   Read more about Ire Against Video Visitation at Texas County Jails Mounts

Mar 9, 2015
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Al Jazeera America

Video visitation threatens to put more distance between inmates and family

Lauren Johnson spent a month as an inmate at the Travis County Correctional Complex, near Austin, back before in-person visitation was eliminated entirely in 2013. Johnson, now an advocate for prison reform, said her husband made sure to schedule in-person visits and avoid the video terminals so that their three children could see her in the flesh. “It’s not something you can quantify,” she said. “Eye contact is a huge deal. It’s blowing them kisses and putting your hand to the glass. The kids get lost with the video terminals. It’s just not the same experience. It’s a disconnected feeling.” Read more about Video visitation threatens to put more distance between inmates and family

Mar 6, 2015
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Quartz

Prison reform is making life inside prison worse, not better

Our friend Jorge Antonio Renaud, from the Center for Community Change, reflects on prison reform.

"The Willacy CCC protest was actually the third major revolt reported at a Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) facility since 2008, points out Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an organization that advocates against for-profit incarceration. Grassroots Leadership has long chronicled the all-too-often violent history of privately-run prisons, but few in the public or government actually listen to the organizations that scramble to monitor and report on overall prison conditions. Living environments protested by Willacy prisoners—like cramped living quarters, sewage-contaminated showers and drinking water, vermin- and bug-infested food, and solitary confinement misused as punishment merely for speaking out—had already been described as problems in privately-run immigrant prisons by a 2014 ACLU report, to little effect." Read more about Prison reform is making life inside prison worse, not better

Humpday Hall of Shame: Another Texas county removes face-to-face jail visits

We are disappointed to learn that Denton is the newest Texas county to eliminate face-to-face visitation between those incarcerated at the county jail and their loved ones.  Like Travis and Bastrop counties, Denton County is now forcing "visitors" to use a video visitation system provided by Dallas-based Securus Technologies which charges users up to $20 for 20 minute "visits."  Consistent with reports from other counties, the system in Denton is sub-par.  "It was very choppy and pixelated, and at times where it would cut off completely and say it's trying to reconnect us," said one user.  Shame on Securus and Denton County for extorting those who are committed to mainting face-to-face ties with their loved ones by forcing them to pay for a system that doesn't work.  If you're as angry as we are, we invite you to join us for a protest at Denton County Jail next Thursday, February 26th and to sign and share this petition to Denton County Commissioners demanding that they find a way to restore in-person visitation.  

Just as we were about to pull our hair out learning of the news from Denton, our partners at the Prison Policy Initiative released this series of hilarious videos that shine a spotlight on the very complaints that we hear from those who have been forced to use video visitation services.  We applaud and give thanks to those who can use humor to shed light on these disgraceful practices and feel hopeful that messages like the ones below are the keys to making the ills of video visitation something everyone can relate to.     

 

Read more about Humpday Hall of Shame: Another Texas county removes face-to-face jail visits

Welcome Lauren Johnson!

Grassroots Leadership is ecstatic to welcome Lauren Johnson to our team!  Lauren is our very first Criminal Justice Advocacy and Mobilization Fellow, a new initiative to create leadership experiences during the Texas legislative session for individuals who have been impacted by the criminal justice system.  Lauren will be supporting the Criminal Justice team with our Texas Prison Closures and Video Visitation campaigns.  

Lauren Johnson is a native Austinite and currently serves as a board member with Conspire Theatre. Conspire  does theater and creative writing with women who have been impacted by incarceration. Lauren studied business communications with the University of Phoenix and is an active member of the X-Offenders Council, as well as the Travis County Reentry Planning Council. She is committed to being a voice for the people who don't know that they have one.

Lauren can be reached at LJohnson@GrassrootsLeadership.org

Read more about Welcome Lauren Johnson!

Feb 4, 2015
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Houston Chronicle

Quong-Charles and Renaud: Video-only visitation bad for inmates, county

While video technologies expand opportunities for communication, they are not the same as face-to-face visits. These opportunities are not worth embracing if they replace face-to-face visitation, which has happened in at least eight Texas counties. We are especially wary of the profit motive of private corporations delivering these services and the imposition of hardships on financially vulnerable people who will be driven to use them to see their incarcerated loved ones. Read more about Quong-Charles and Renaud: Video-only visitation bad for inmates, county

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