AUSTIN – Today, a coalition of civil rights advocates, led by Grassroots Leadership and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, issued a study condemning the Travis County Sheriff’s 2013 decision to deny all in-person visits for jail inmates, in favor of expensive video-only visitation. The study concludes video-only visitation has resulted in more violence, more disciplinary issues, and more contraband in the jail. It also places unnecessary financial burdens on the family members of those in the county jail, most of whom have not been convicted of a crime but are unable to make bond or post bail.
These findings are timely because the Travis County Commissioners Court will consider whether to renew its video-visitation contract later this month.
The study’s findings show deteriorating security:
· Inmate-on-inmate assaults increased 20 percent from May 2012 to May 2014.
· Disciplinary infractions climbed from an averaged of 940 per month before May 2013 to an average of 1,087 per month after May 2013.
· Possession of contraband cases increased 54 percent from May 2013 to May 2014.
· Inmate assaults on staff also increased after in-person visitation was eliminated – nearly doubling in some months.
“In-person visits with family are essential for maintaining parental bonds, and they reduce the chances a person will return to jail in the future,” said Jorge Renaud, the report’s author. “Video visitation is a lousy alternative. It is harmful to children, cost prohibitive for many families, and makes the jail less safe for both inmates and staff.”
“Families were once allowed to visit loved ones face-to-face,” said Kymberlie Quong Charles. But on May 2013, the Sheriff announced the jail was terminating in-person visitation. Families would only be allowed to visit by video, being charged $20 for just 20 minutes. About 75% of that money is kept by the private vendor, Securus Technologies, Inc., and about 25% goes to Travis County. “They privatized a public service to capture big profits for a private corporation, at the community’s expense” said Ms. Quong Charles. “It is crony capitalism, pure and simple.”
The Texas Civil Rights Project sued Securus and Travis County earlier this year, alleging they were unlawfully recording inmates’ calls with their attorneys. The lawsuit is ongoing.The coalition is calling on the Sheriff to restore in-person visitation immediately, or in the alternative, for Travis County to terminate the video-visitation contract.