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In January, 2014 Grassroots Leadership became aware that all visits at the Travis County Jail (TX) had been replaced by a video chat system.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

Humpday Hall of Shame: Human Resources laurels for Securus' inhumane corporate practices

This week's Humpday Hall of Shame is written for us by guest blogger Jorge Renaud, policy analyst with the Texas Criminal Justice Coaliton


Words matter, as do the accolades we give to each other to recognize achievement and progress. Both must be grounded in an agreed-upon understanding of terms. Otherwise, we have a grotesquerie similar to the one achieved when Henry Kissinger – whose idea to deescalate the Vietnam War by bombing Cambodia resulted in 40,000 deaths there – was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.

An entity named DallasHR saw fit to award its 2014 Human Resource Executive of the Year Award to Kate Lengvel, a vice president in Human Resources for Securus Technology. If your memory needs refreshing, Securus is the Dallas-area company that provides telephone and video services to a bunch of U.S. jails and prisons and also trumpets a product line called Satellite Tracking of People (STOP). This latest is reminiscent of a long-time Texas tradition whereby ranchers staple identifying markers to the ears of their cattle to keep accurate counts of their herds, and it’s pretty well indicative of what Securus does – dehumanize incarcerated individuals and their families, all for profit.

Read more about Humpday Hall of Shame: Human Resources laurels for Securus' inhumane corporate practices

Nov 26, 2014
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Dallas Observer

Captive Audience: Counties and Private Businesses Cash in on Video Visits at Jails

Curious about how the limited human contact affects inmate behavior, he began filing open records requests once he got out of jail. Using data provided by Travis County, Renaud found that inmate infractions climbed from 820 in May 2012 to 1,160 in April 2014, and the facility went from averaging 940 infractions per month to 1,087 per month in that same period. Contraband into the facility increased 54 percent, the data showed, and inmate-on-inmate assaults increased 20 percent. Renaud published his work in an October report sponsored by Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based prison rights group. Most troubling for jail workers, Renaud's report found, inmate-on-staff assaults in Travis County jumped from three to six in the month immediately after the change, and have gradually increased since, topping out at eight in April 2014. Read more about Captive Audience: Counties and Private Businesses Cash in on Video Visits at Jails

Nov 13, 2014
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Austin-American Statesman

Editorial: In-person visitation should be an option at Travis, Bastrop jails

Just last month, inmate advocates in Austin called on sheriff’s officials to restore in-person visitation at Travis County jails, saying the video chatting system is costly for prisoners and their families and has not improved security as promoted. The advocates pointed to a recent study by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and Grassroots Leadership that showed overall increase in disciplinary infractions, assaults and contraband between May 2012 and April 2014 in the county jail. Advocates say the results indicate conditions have worsened for prisoners. The findings are contrary to what the sheriff’s office said would happen when it introduced the video system in May 2013. At the time, the sheriff’s office said the new system would be safer for inmates. Read more about Editorial: In-person visitation should be an option at Travis, Bastrop jails

Nov 7, 2014
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The Austin Chronicle

Through a Glass, Darkly: County jail visitation now video-only

"We're being careful to say there's not a direct correlation, but it certainly hasn't decreased violence," says Grassroots Lead­er­ship's Kymberlie Quong Charles, who argues that there's a necessary human, physical element in face-to-face interactions. "Even through Plexiglas, it allows you to see the color of [an inmate's] skin, or other physical things with their bodies," she adds. "It's an accountability thing, and lets people on the outside get some read on the physical condition of a loved one. If there are concerns, it gives people on the outside a tool." Read more about Through a Glass, Darkly: County jail visitation now video-only

Oct 16, 2014
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Austin-American Statesman

Advocates want Travis County to bring back face-to-face jail visits

Members of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and Grassroots Leadership have released a study pointing to an overall increase in disciplinary infractions, assaults and contraband between May 2012 and April 2014. Advocates say the results indicate conditions have worsened for prisoners, though in announcing the launch of the video system in May 2013, the sheriff’s office said exclusive video visitation would better safety and security as deputies would no longer have to move inmates from one building to another for face-to-face visits and would be free for other duties. Read more about Advocates want Travis County to bring back face-to-face jail visits

Oct 16, 2014
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Texas Observer

A Dallas Company Finds Profit in Video-Only Jail Visitations

“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. Securus, she pointed out, is a major provider of phone services for jails and prisons, but the FCC is cracking down on what it considers exorbitant rates. Video visitation could offer a source of revenue at a time of sagging profits for the industry. Read more about A Dallas Company Finds Profit in Video-Only Jail Visitations

Oct 23, 2014
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CBS Houston

Video-Only Prison Visits A Profitable Replacement For Texas Jails

A report from 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.” Read more about Video-Only Prison Visits A Profitable Replacement For Texas Jails

Oct 20, 2014
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Grits for Breakfast

Backlash brewing against video-only jail visitation

report released this morning by Grassroots Leadership and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition found that disciplinary infractions, assaults and contraband cases all increased within the year after the video-only policy was put in place. The report concedes that the trends may be an aberration or temporary but cites social science and long-standing prison policies holding that visitations improves jail security and lowers recidivism rates. Read more about Backlash brewing against video-only jail visitation

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