New Technologies Connect Prisoners to the Outside World

March 14, 2016
Texas Observer

Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit that works to end for-profit prisons, has been fighting this policy at Austin’s Del Valle Jail.

Bob Libal, the group’s executive director, told the Observer that many video visitation contracts “were written in a way that was detrimental to loved ones being able to stay in communication with their incarcerated family members, particularly when it eliminated or incentivized people visiting from afar in order to make profit.”

After the nonprofit packed county budget hearings with concerned family members, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office agreed to reinstate physical in-person visitation by April.

For Libal, this highlights the double-edged sword of new prison technologies: they can benefit prisoners, but often benefit a corporation’s bottom line far more. “I don’t know that it is good or bad as a whole,” he said, “but I think we should be critical of the application of these technologies and ensure that they are used appropriately and not used to extract more money from already vulnerable people.”