Austin, TX - Last night HB 549 was filed, making the legislation official law. Authored by Dallas Representative Eric Johnson, and Houston Senator John Whitmire, HB 549 clarifies existing county jail rules stating that the two weekly 20-minute visits afforded to all people in jail are to happen in-person and face-to-face. The current policy has been in place since 1993. [node:read-more:link]
Prison phone service companies like Dallas-based Securus Technologies, Inc. have found a new way to profit from their captive audience: video visitation systems. In the last two years, at least 25 county jails in Texas have installed video terminals that allow inmates to chat with friends, family and others on the outside. Like the phone systems, the cost of using the service is steep: up to $1 per minute for a Skype-like chat, not including usage fees and taxes. But the real kicker is that in many cases the video systems are replacing in-person visits.
Grassroots Leadership has been trying to get in-person visitations restored at the Travis County Jail for almost two years. The group was alerted to the situation there after the Texas Civil Rights Project filed a lawsuit against Securus and the Travis County Sheriff’s Office for allegedly unlawfully recording the video chats. Another lawsuit was filed in March on behalf of Derrick Matthew Rice, a 29-year-old inmate at the Denton County Jail, against Securus, the Denton County Sheriff’s Office, and the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. The suit claims that eliminating in-person visits is a violation of what’s already stipulated in jail standards. [node:read-more:link]
Several weeks ago we asked you to communicate to members of the House County Affairs Committee your support for HB 549, a bill that protects the face-to-face visitation rights of people incarcerated at Texas county jails from being replaced with expensive, poor quality video chats. (see more background here) [node:read-more:link]