(AUSTIN, Texas) — Grassroots Leadership today celebrated the announced return of in-person visitation to the Travis County Jail by April, 2016. The decision was announced as part of last minute budget negotiations following months of advocacy by formerly incarcerated people, their families, and allies to convince the Travis County Commissioners and Sheriff Greg Hamilton to bring back in-person visitation after it was removed in favor of video visits administered by a private, for-profit technology company called Securus in 2013. Last week, more than 40 people showed up to support testimony of formerly incarcerated people and their families as part of debate over the County budget.
“This is a huge victory for everyone who has worked to return in-person visitation in Travis County!” said Lauren Johnson, Criminal Justice Fellow at Grassroots Leadership. “Giving families a choice between visiting their loved ones in person or through video should have been the policy all along.”
On September 1st, Texas HB 549 went into effect, clarifying existing rules for visiting policies at Texas’ county jails and ensuring that incarcerated people receive a minimum of two 20-minute in-person, face-to-face visits per week. However, more than 30 counties applied to be excluded from the law under a provision that exempts counties that endured a significant cost to implement video visitation. Travis County’s exemption was brought under scrutiny last week after the Texas Commission on Jail Standards sent a letter noting that the costs cited in the county’s documentation needed review.
Grassroots Leadership applauds the Travis County officials for heeding the community’s concerns on this issue, and for working diligently to restore in-person visits while under challenging budgeting constraints. “This victory should be an example for other counties around Texas that currently have video-only visitation,” said Bob Libal, Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership. “Ensuring the right to in-person visitation helps Texans in county jails maintain ties with their families and communities and should be the very minimum standard for visitation.”
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Grassroots Leadership is an Austin, Texas-based national organization that works to end prison profiteering and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention through direct action, organizing, research, and public education.