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Travis County (Texas) Jail Initiates Video Visitation for a Fee

Travis County intends to be one of the first places in Texas that allows video visitation for jail prisoners. Under an agreement with Securus Technologies, Inc. approved by the county commissioners on October 30, 2012, the county jail will soon have a Skype-like video system for prisoner visitation. Installation of the hardware and software necessary to use the system will be paid for by Securus. That cost is estimated at $750,000. Video calls to lawyers will be free. But calls to friends and loved ones will cost a hefty $20 per 20 minutes.

The county will receive a $4.60 (23%) cut of the profits from each phone call. That money will go into the county's general fund. The revenue could be significant as the jail system has an average daily population of 2,251 prisoners and hosts around 500 personal visits a day.

Plans are for video visits to take place in a room with a guard

present. The visits will also be recorded. However, video visits with lawyers will not be monitored or recorded.

According to the jail's administrator, Major Darren Long, the jail will maintain free in-person visitation once video visits are available.

During the meeting that approved the deal with Securus, Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt said she had "a little pause about generating revenue from the inmates ... The vast majority of inmates are not well heeled." She should have had a large pause about charging such an exorbitant fee to the poorest people in society for a service that costs next to nothing to provide.

County Judge Saw,: Biscoe said that the commissioners court might consider reducing the cost for prisoner video visitation within the next year and before the system is brought online.

Online video visitation can be a good idea so long as it is in addition to in-person visitation and reasonable fees are charged. The problem occurs when, as with prisoner telephone access, companies and government entities see video visitation fees as a legitimate source for revenue windfalls.

Source: Austin American-Statesman

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