Some days Sylvia Gomez thinks it is harder for her to get inside the Bexar County Jail to visit her son than it would be for him to break out and come to her.Apparently there's a dispute regarding whether all the visitors possible are let inside to wait for visitation hours:
It's not the strict dress code, invasive security measures or even the agitated and sometimes unruly residents of the imposing red-brick fortress.
For Gomez, 62, and thousands of other visitors, the obstacle is far more mundane: marathon waits in long lines in the summer sun.
A lobby with a seating capacity for 80 people is just inside the jail entrance, but most days guards allow a fraction of that number inside at a time — often as few as 20 people, agreed numerous visitors interviewed over several weeks.This story made me think: Some jails are switching to video visitation, though in most cases families must still come down to the jail to use it. That seems unnecessary, inviting this kind of problem to fester. Once video visitation becomes common, I wonder if there's a need in the era of cheapo webcams for families who won't get contact visits to come down to the jail at all? Certainly that would help resolve this situation, and could also boost inmates' connections to family and others in their lives trying to help them. (It might be an even more appropriate suggestion for TDCJ, where many families face long drives for visitation.) It should be possible to create user accounts to access the system that could monitor record conversations just like they do now. I've thought for a long time jails and prisons should make it easier for folks to visit; maybe that's the way to do it? OTOH, perhaps there's some intangible extra benefit from an in-person visit, particularly for kids, that justifies lamenting a shift to video.
“They treat us worse than the criminals. It's degrading,” said Connie Torres, 62, who is diabetic and suffers from a joint condition called fibromyalgia, which makes it difficult for her to sit or stand for long periods.
Jail officials say they let 80 people at a time wait in the lobby. Tomasini said that policy has been in place for months. “Elderly and handicapped are given priority,” she said.
Visitors flatly deny it, saying guards only began allowing that number as recently as a week ago, when a reporter was there.
I don't yet have an opinion on replacing in-person visitation with video, though it's commonly part of new jail construction these days and appears to have become the wave of the future without really much stakeholder debate. At the state level, if UTMB can deliver medical care via video, TDCJ could probably do the same for visitation if the Lege directed it. But is it a good idea? What do folks who participate in such visits think of the video option? What are the benefits and drawbacks? And are there good arguments for requiring video visitors to come to the jail, or might it be possible to provide secure online access?