Video Visitation

Grassroots Leadership and allies submit comments to the FCC on video visitation

This week Grassroots Leadership and many of our partners and allies submitted comments to the Federal Communications Commission in hopes of improving the way video "visits" are currently being offered and sold at county jails and state prisons around the country.  Our comments can be viewed here. Read more about Grassroots Leadership and allies submit comments to the FCC on video visitation

Jan 14, 2016
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San Marcos Daily Record

Film slams ‘video visitation’ in county jails

Recent winners of The Austin Chronicle’s prestigious “2015 Critics’ Picks Award” – an honor also bestowed on a few San Marcos institutions, including Bower Bird and Centro Cultural Hispano – will comprise a panel at the sneak preview of a hard-hitting documentary to close the “Imposed Separateness” film series.

Chief organizers of Grassroots Leadership, a social-justice advocacy group based in Austin, will speak following the special screening of “(In)Securus Technologies: An Assault on the Rights of Prisoners” on Thursday, starting at 6:30 p.m., in the basement chapel of the San Marcos Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 604 N. Guadalupe St.

The film, due to officially premiere in Austin in the coming weeks, documents the societal impact of a new trend in Texas county jails including Hays County: elimination of in-person visitation, replaced by so-called “video visitation.” Read more about Film slams ‘video visitation’ in county jails

San Antonio media fails to report opposition to video visit plans at Bexar County Jail

Last week the San Antonio Express News posted this article about Bexar County’s imminent transition to video-only visitation at their county jail.  Despite outcry from community members, Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau and County Commissioners continue to push the plan forward.   Read more about San Antonio media fails to report opposition to video visit plans at Bexar County Jail

Dec 20, 2015
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San Antonio Express

Scheduled jail visits could address most Bexar issues

Advocates of jail visitation believe that incarcerated people should be allowed to maintain “in-person” contact between themselves and their loved ones.

Bexar County has proposed to eliminate in-person visitation at the Bexar County Detention Center. The alternative is to provide “video visitation” instead.

There is an organizing effort underway to keep in-person visits at BCDC. This effort began 17 months ago when Margarita McAuliffe, founder and lead organizer with Mothers Act for Criminal Justice Reforms, reached out to Diana Claitor with the Texas Jail Project and began working with other groups such as Grassroots Leadership, based in Austin. They have been working since early 2014 to restore in-person visitation at theTravis County Jail. Read more about Scheduled jail visits could address most Bexar issues

Oct 23, 2015
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Texas Observer

Travis County Inmates to See Families Face-to-Face Again

Nearly two dozen of Texas’ 254 counties applied for an exemption. One of them was Travis County. In May 2013, the county ended in-person visitation, with help from Securus, which provided the video service at “no cost to the county” but at significant personal and financial cost to inmates and their families. Members of the Travis County Commissioners Court, which controls the county budget, have said that at the time, they were led to believe that video visitation would be a supplement to, not a replacement for, in-person visitations.

Securus pushes its “remote visitation” option as a money-saving initiative that saves public dollars on jail staff and “minimizes the dangerous and costly movement of inmates within a facility,” and advertises its video software as technology that “minimizes contraband.”

However, researchers with Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit that focuses on prison reform, and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition found that disciplinary cases for possession of contraband at the Travis County Correctional Complex increased, along with assaults and other disciplinary infractions increased after video-only visitation became the default policy in Travis County. Read more about Travis County Inmates to See Families Face-to-Face Again

Sep 30, 2015
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Austin Monitor

County approves budget, restores jail visitations

Indeed, the most significant public engagement during the budget process came last week at the first of two special hearings on the proposed tax rate. But instead of raising hackles about high taxes, the handful of speakers at the hearing urged the commissioners to restore in-person visits for inmates at county jails. Under the current policy enacted by Sheriff Greg Hamilton, most inmates can interact with friends and family only remotely through a video chat interface.

Last week’s effort, organized by the prison reform group Grassroots Leadership, turned out to be a testament to the power of democratic participation. County Judge Sarah Eckhardt responded to their activism by putting the issue on Tuesday’s agenda, and staff came prepared with two options for covering the cost of restoring in-person visits. ...

“At the end of the day, we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish,” Lauren Johnson of Grassroots Leadership told the Austin Monitor. But, she added, Travis isn’t the only county keeping its inmates from sharing face-to-face contact with loved ones. “We’ll spend the day celebrating and then get back to work tomorrow to figure out which county we go to next.”

  Read more about County approves budget, restores jail visitations

Sep 29, 2015
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Austin American-Statesman

Travis County OKs $951 million budget, in-person jail visits

The sheriff’s office will hire 14 new employees to staff the visiting rooms, which are scheduled to open in April. The money will come primarily from savings in the sheriff’s office overtime budget, not new spending.

That funding arrangement solved a political problem that caused a similar measure to be defeated this month. Wanting to keep the county’s tax rate low enough for the average homeowner to see a cut in their tax bill next year, the commissioners on Sept. 9 voted 4-1 against a $1.1 million measure that would have increased the county’s budget for next year.

After that vote, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, who was on the losing side, directed staff to look for budget-neutral solutions. At the same time, the nonprofit group Grassroots Leadership, which opposes the privatization of prison services, questioned the Texas Commission on Jail Standards on why it exempted Travis County from a new state law requiring jails to allow inmates to have up to two face-to-face visits per week.

Initially, the commission had ruled that the county was exempt because it had already spent a significant amount of money on the video system. Grassroots, however, pointed out that the funding came from the vendor, Securus Technologies, and not the taxpayers. The jail commission still has not made a ruling on whether it will remove the county’s exemption, but Eckhardt said she has been told that it would be satisfied with the new plan. Read more about Travis County OKs $951 million budget, in-person jail visits

Sep 23, 2015
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Austin Monitor

Jail visitation dominates county budget hearing

Travis County Commissioners Court held its first of three public hearings on the proposed tax rate for the next fiscal year on Tuesday evening, but instead of anxious property owners venting about affordability concerns, a determined group of inmates’ rights advocates dominated the proceedings.

...

After her presentation, the first of a series of activists organized by Austin-based prison reform group Grassroots Leadership approached the dais and called for the return of in-person visitation at Travis County jails. Under the current policy instituted by Sheriff Greg Hamilton, most inmates are able to visit with friends and family only through a video-chat interface.
After her presentation, the first of a series of activists organized by Austin-based prison reform group Grassroots Leadership approached the dais and called for the return of in-person visitation at Travis County jails. Under the current policy instituted by Sheriff Greg Hamilton, most inmates are able to visit with friends and family only through a video-chat interface. - See more at: http://www.austinmonitor.com/stories/2015/09/jail-visitation-dominates-county-budget-hearing/#sthash.EBYpa6NQ.dpufAfter her presentation, the first of a series of activists organized by Austin-based prison reform group Grassroots Leadership approached the dais and called for the return of in-person visitation at Travis County jails. Under the current policy instituted by Sheriff Greg Hamilton, most inmates are able to visit with friends and family only through a video-chat interface. - See more at: http://www.austinmonitor.com/stories/2015/09/jail-visitation-dominates-county-budget-hearing/#sthash.EBYpa6NQ.dpuf

After her presentation, the first of a series of activists organized by Austin-based prison reform group Grassroots Leadership approached the dais and called for the return of in-person visitation at Travis County jails. Under the current policy instituted by Sheriff Greg Hamilton, most inmates are able to visit with friends and family only through a video-chat interface.

Several of the speakers, including Doug Smith of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, gave emotional testimony that reflected their personal experiences as inmates or family of inmates.

- See more at: http://www.austinmonitor.com/stories/2015/09/jail-visitation-dominates-county-budget-hearing/#sthash.EBYpa6NQ.dpuf

After her presentation, the first of a series of activists organized by Austin-based prison reform group Grassroots Leadership approached the dais and called for the return of in-person visitation at Travis County jails. Under the current policy instituted by Sheriff Greg Hamilton, most inmates are able to visit with friends and family only through a video-chat interface.

Several of the speakers, including Doug Smith of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, gave emotional testimony that reflected their personal experiences as inmates or family of inmates.

- See more at: http://www.austinmonitor.com/stories/2015/09/jail-visitation-dominates-county-budget-hearing/#sthash.EBYpa6NQ.dpuf
Read more about Jail visitation dominates county budget hearing
Sep 21, 2015
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Austin American-Statesman

Ruling on county’s video-based jail visits questioned

Many jails, including Travis’, have moved in recent years to offering only video-based visitation, in which guests communicate with their incarcerated loved ones through a Skype-like monitor. The new law requires counties to maintain in-person visitation as an option but exempted counties that had already spent a significant amount implementing a video-only system. Travis County, which in 2012 approved a contract with Securus Technologies to add video capabilities to its downtown jail and the correctional complex in Del Valle, was exempted this month.

But the Austin-based nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, which opposes the privatization of prison services, is questioning whether the county should have been granted the exemption because the Securus contract said that the company, not the taxpayers, was on the hook for the program. ...

Lauren Johnson, a criminal justice fellow with Grassroots Leadership, said the group is not contesting whether the law requires in-person visitation at those two facilities but believes it should be made available for inmates who live in the rest of the buildings. ...

“Video is a perfectly reasonable option,” Quong Charles said. “The fact that at Travis County it is the only type of visitation available to anybody — and on top of that, the fact that the county and a for-profit corporation are making money on its usage — we don’t think that that’s kosher. We don’t think that that’s a smart way or a just way.”

 

  Read more about Ruling on county’s video-based jail visits questioned

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