May 11, 2015
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." [node:read-more:link]

Immigrant rights advocates rally at the Texas Capitol to protect in-state tuition for DREAMers

By guest blogger Marlon Saucedo, who recently joined our Austin staff as an intern and will be blogging at Texas Prison Bid'ness

A crowd of over 300 people rallied on February 11 in front of the Capitol to advocate in support for immigration reform aimed towards the benefit of the immigrant community.

“It is important for you all to educate yourselves on the economy so that you know how many dollars our children are paying in college. $42 million is how much we and our families contribute to our colleges,” said Ramon Romero Jr., one of several state representatives who spoke during the event.

Much of the rally was specifically in opposition to legislative action that would repeal House Bill 1403 and Senate Bill 1528, which grant in-state tuition and a claim to residency for higher education to immigrant students, respectively.


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.     



Nov 26, 2014
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. [node:read-more:link]

Nov 25, 2014
Austin-American Statesman

Commentary: Closing state jails should be on Legislature’s agenda

Jailing at the rates that Texas does has had devastating social and economic effects for those incarcerated, who are disproportionately poor people of color, and their communities. But our addiction to incarceration affects us all. Texas taxpayers foot the bill at a cost of nearly $3 billion annually spent on state jails and prisons, money that could otherwise be invested in education and other front-end programs that give people opportunities to avoid interaction with the criminal justice system. [node:read-more:link]

Nov 13, 2014
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. [node:read-more:link]

Nov 7, 2014
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." [node:read-more:link]

Oct 16, 2014
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. [node:read-more:link]

Oct 23, 2014
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.” [node:read-more:link]


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