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September 10, 2014

Might all video visitation companies be eager to have prisons and jail prohibition in-person visitation?

Video_visits_drawingRegular readers know I believe modern technologies can and should be used as much as possible to improve the functioning and efficacy of modern crimnal justice systems.  Consequently, I tend to be a supporter of expanded use of video technologies in criminal corrections.  But this notable local story from Dallas, headlined "In-person jail visits to continue after Dallas County rejects videoconferencing idea," makes me more than a little uncomfortable about the economics behind some corrections technology and prompts the question in the title of this post.  Here are excerpts from this interesting local story:  

Face-to-face visits will continue at the Dallas County Jail after county commissioners threw out a proposed contract with a videoconferencing company that would have banned them.

The company, Securus Technologies, was seeking a contract to provide video visitations at the jail. Commissioners said they were still interested in the service, but not at the cost of stopping in-person visits.

The ban on face-to-face visits appeared to be a way for the company, which is based in North Texas, to recoup its expenses for installing the video-visitation system. The company was going to spend around $5 million to set up the technology. It would then charge $10 for each 20-minute video chat. Dallas County would have received up to a 25 percent commission on those calls.

Prohibiting in-person visits almost surely would have increased the number of video chats, which in turn would boost revenues for Securus — and for the county. But when details of the contract were made public last week, County Judge Clay Jenkins led a last-ditch effort to reject it. Backed by inmates’ rights advocates, Jenkins said the contract made video visits too costly.

“It is a way to make money … off the backs of families,” he said. He also said eliminating in-person visits would be inhumane.

Commissioners were flooded with emails opposing the contract. At Tuesday’s meeting of the Commissioners Court, 17 people showed up to speak out against the plan. They included a man convicted of a murder for which he was later exonerated and a former state legislator, Terri Hodge, who spent time in federal prison for tax evasion. After more than two hours of discussion, the court voted to pull the item from its agenda. The staff was instructed to seek a new contract under different terms. Those new terms are to include the continuation of in-person visits and elimination of the county’s commission on video visits....

Dallas County has been exploring video visitation for years. It’s been portrayed as an additional option for inmates’ friends and families who can’t or won’t trek downtown to the jail. But county staff acknowledged that the technology is also intended to save money. Managing visitors and moving inmates to visitation areas takes significant staff time, they said.

Commissioner Mike Cantrell said he thought the per-minute cost of the video chats was fair. He said the county spends about $107 million a year to run the jail and brings in about $10.8 million in bond forfeitures, fines and other assessments on inmates. But the commissioners were unanimous in not wanting to eliminate in-person visits. That was also the main concern of the plan’s opponents who spoke at the meeting, including several defense attorneys....

Richard Miles, who spent nearly 15 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, said visits from loved ones are vital to the well-being and rehabilitation of inmates. “My father died while I was in prison,” he said. “What did I hold on to? My visits.”

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September 10, 2014 at 06:53 PM | Permalink

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I do not understand why it costs $5 million to achieve what a $500 laptop with Skype loaded for free can do.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 11, 2014 12:39:27 AM

I am appalled at the thought of doing away with personal visits. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO SUBSTITUTE for in person visit. NONE.
My loved one is serving a fairly lengthy term in a Medium Federal Prison. Visitation is in person in a visitation room...where a hug, and holding hands is allowed. Your visit is also "private" to the extent that no one is hanging over your shoulder listening to you...nor is it recorded in any way. We both hate the phone calls constantly interrupted by "This a call from a Federal Prison"...and so have avoided those...you can't feel like those are "real life".
Presently thrive somewhat on the Corrlinks email exchange (we both like to write)...but know that someone somewhere can read every exchange. The only thing that feels like "real life" at all is the personal visit. That is also what my loved one lives for...the personal visit.
THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE. NONE. Only "supplementation" from the video system should be permitted...and if in ANY WAY the prisons use this as an excuse to cut down on personal visits...I'd say scrap the whole video idea.

Posted by: folly | Sep 11, 2014 1:14:39 PM

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