Ruling on county’s video-based jail visits questioned

September 21, 2015
Austin American-Statesman

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.”