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Jail Video Visitation Proposal Considered in Dallas County, Texas

Jail Video Visitation Proposal Considered in Dallas County, Texa

On September 9, 2014, the Dallas County Commissioners Court unanimously rejected a proposal that would have ended all face-to-face visits with prisoners at the Dallas County Jail. The Commissioners Court had been considering bids to equip the jail with a video visitation system. Prison phone service provider Securus Technologies appeared to have the edge on the contract; however, when the company submitted a plan that included the elimination of in-person visits at the jail, it met vigorous opposition from County Judge Clay Jenkins.

Judge Jenkins’ outspoken rejection of the plan was a rallying cry for a number of prisoners’ rights advocates, including Texas CURE, former state Rep. Terri Hodge and Richard Miles, a former Texas prisoner who was exonerated following a wrongful murder conviction. The Commissioners Court also received hundreds of emails and a petition with over 2,000 signatures objecting to Securus’ video visitation plan.

The company’s proposal included charging $10 for each 20-minute visit, and tried to sweeten the deal by offering the county a 25% commission on video visitation revenue. The Commissioners Court initially decided to table the issue and allow previous bidders to submit new bids based on revised criteria. Any new bids would be required to 1) retain in-person visits with prisoners, 2) eliminate commissions on video visitation and 3) clarify various details including the number of video visitation terminals that would be installed.

“It is a way to make money ... off the backs of families,” said Judge Jenkins. “I am very pleased with the court today in looking at these commissions and saying that they want to get out of the commission business.”

However, in late September, due to legal concerns, the Commissioners Court renewed contract negotiations with Securus to provide video visitation at the Dallas County Jail. The county will require the continuation of in-person visits and will not accept commissions from video visitation revenue. The contract with Securus may also extend to phone services at the jail, which currently include commission payments. In 2013, Dallas County reportedly received $2.8 million in phone commissions – a practice that has also drawn criticism.

“It is very important that we do not profit on the backs of inmates in the jail,” stated Commissioner Elba Garcia.

For years, PLN has reported on the nationwide epidemic of price gouging by prison and jail phone companies like Securus and Global Tel*Link. [See, e.g.: PLN, Dec. 2013, p.1; April 2011, p.1]. Those companies, and a growing number of other firms, are increasingly extending their commission-based business model to video visitation. [See: PLN, March 2014, p.50].

Sources: www.prisonpolicy.org, www.dallasnews.com, www.statesman.com

 

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