Monday, October 20, 2014

Backlash brewing against video-only jail visitation

In Austin, activists are pushing for the Sheriff to allow face-to-face visitation for county jail inmates, a practice ended as part of a new contract with Dallas-based Securus Technologies which provides for video-based visitation only. (See prior Grits coverage.) As a backdrop, the Texas Observer's Forrest Wilder reported recently (Oct. 16) on controversies surrounding Securus and video-only jail visitation. That article concluded:
In Dallas, activists and some local leaders, especially County Judge Clay Jenkins, helped kill a contract with Securus that included a provision stipulating that the jail had to eliminate all in-person visits. “It is very important that we do not profit on the backs of inmates in the jail,” Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia said in The Dallas Morning News.

The Bastrop County Jail is set to eliminate all face-to-face visitation in early November. Instead, visitors can use a free video terminal at the jail or pay $1 per minute to use the remote video system.

The contract, reviewed by the Observer, cuts the county in for 20 percent of Securus’ revenues. It doesn’t require, like the Dallas contract, that in-person visitation be eliminated, but it stipulates that for the first two years the county only gets paid if it produces 534 paid visits per month.

In Austin, the Travis County Commissioners Court voted in October 2012 to add video visitation as an ancillary service—something prisoners’ rights advocates are fine with as long as the rates are reasonable and the service is reliable. But in May 2013, Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton quietly eliminated in-person visitation. Defense attorneys and inmates sued in April, claiming that the jail and Securus were unlawfully recording privileged conversations between inmates and attorneys and leaking them to prosecutors. On top of that, [Grassroots Leadership's Kymberlie] Quong Charles says the lack of human interaction is worsening conditions.

“What we found is that everything they said would happen in terms of improving conditions has actually gotten worse,” she said. “I think people are frustrated, they’re not getting to see anybody.”
A report released this morning by Grassroots Leadership and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition found that disciplinary infractions, assaults and contraband cases all increased within the year after the video-only policy was put in place. The report concedes that the trends may be an aberration or temporary but cites social science and long-standing prison policies holding that visitations improves jail security and lowers recidivism rates. One study of 16,420 offenders commissioned by the Minnesota Department of Corrections, for example, found that “prison visitation can significantly improve the transition offenders make from the institution to the community.” Even one visit lowered the risk that a person would re-offend by 13 percent.

“Video-only visitation policies ignore best practices that call for face-to-face visits to foster family relationships,” the report argues. “They advance arguments about security that are dubious, not rooted in research, and may be counter-productive.”

Grassroots Leadership and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition report found 10 counties in Texas that have already deployed video-only systems, with more considering the option.


Anonymous said...

They are nothing more than the product of vendor grubbing.
On a broader level, they are so embedded in jails so lobbying effort may be mounted to keep bidness alive.
It could serve as an incentive or sanction for those incarcerated.

sunray's wench said...

It should be an either-or situation, not a video-only one. in some cases, video visits are a really good thing, particularly for those who live out of state. But removing physical contact between a parent and their young child, or between a husband and wife is detrimental to both parties.

Anonymous said...

Given the experience I have had with Securus in trying to use their website to prepay for phone calls, I doubt their technology will work as it is supposed to. I have had an ongoing problem with accessing my account on their website that recurs each time I try to access it. Their customer service is completely useless. If they don't put any more effort into their technology for video visitation, their probably won't be much video visitation going on. This is one of the most incompetently run companies I have ever dealt with.

Anonymous said...

In his complaint and at an evidentiary hearing, Streater [2] says that on February 14, 2011, he filed a grievance complaining that his pre-paid prisoner phone account was being charged for dropped calls, and requesting a refund. Two days later, a restriction was placed on his account by Securus Billing Services which denied him the right to call his approved home number with his prepaid minutes. He complained to Bell, Thaler, and Livingston about this restriction and asked that it be removed; Streater notes that prior to the filing of this grievance, he had been calling this number for several months with no problems except for the dropping of the calls. Streater also complained to employees of the Offender Telephone Services, but nothing was done to correct the retaliatory action taken against him by Securus Telephone Services, nor did he receive a refund for the dropped calls.

Streater v. Thaler,2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 113612,2012 WL 3308109(E.D. Tex.July 1, 2012)

I am requesting a criminal [14] investigation into theft of my money from my phone account by the telephone service provider. The phone system is programmed to repeatedly terminate the phone calls as soon as it's connected, and still deducting 23 cents from my account each time even though the call was disconnected after no more than 3 seconds. This has occurred so many times to the point that the pattern is clear. Most recently I had three calls terminated in this manner on February 11, 2011, and three more terminated in this manner on February 13, 2011. This has also happened to me on at least 15 to 20 previous occasions over the past two months. Sometimes the operator would indicate that a third party call was being made, but the call was disconnected even before my family member could get hello out. Other times it would just indicate that the call was being disconnected without giving any reason. Each time when I would call right back, the operator would indicate that my account had been deducted 23 cents. It's gotten to the point where these deductions are amounting to several dollars, and several other offenders have told me that it is also happening to them. That means that the phone company is charging for [15] calls they illegally terminated, and that they are potentially making thousands of dollars through fraudulently deducting from offenders' accounts.

I'm requesting that the activity be reported to the FCC and the FBI. Furthermore, if the fraudulent activity doesn't cease and desist, I intend to file a tort claim against the phone provider and TDCJ and request that it receive class action status. In fact, I am intending to notify several tort claim lawyers, including the one who sued a prison phone provider in another state for the same fraudulent practice.

Streater v. Thaler,2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 113612,2012 WL 3308109(E.D. Tex.July 1, 2012)

Anonymous said...

Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at Florida Northwest Reception Center and names Securus Technologies as the defendant in this matter. Plaintiff claims defendant violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments when it prevented him from communicating with the persons on his inmate telephone agreement and number list. (Doc. 1, pp. 6-7). Plaintiff seeks injunctive and declaratory relief, in addition to punitive damages and costs. (Doc. 1, p. 15).

Horton v. Securus Techs.,2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 128721(N.D. Fla.July 11, 2011)

Anonymous said...

Asserting his rights under the Fourth Amendment, defendant moved to suppress all evidence pertaining to his initial conversation with his client, and all recordings and other evidence resulting from that conversation. Suppressing the evidence, the court held that defendant satisfied both the subjective and the objective tests for a reasonable expectation of privacy in his initial conversation with the client. The court found that the government did not meet its burden of establishing that the client consented to the monitoring of his conversation with defendant, with full awareness of his options to have a confidential conversation with his attorney. Although the jail had a policy of monitoring outgoing phone calls, calls between attorneys and clients were generally exempt from monitoring. In short, defendant had a privacy interest in the telephone conversation with his client, and that privacy interest was protected by the Fourth Amendment. The conversation should never have been recorded, but once recorded the authorities should have refrained from listening to it. The monitoring was unlawfully obtained and related evidence was suppressed as the fruit of the poisonous tree.

United States v. Novak,453 F. Supp. 2d 249, 251,2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71281, 1(D. Mass.2006)

Anonymous said...

Rights violation in adequate communication with the outside world: In that, when using the phone to contact family, loved ones and to handle personal affairs, as well as to contact your attorney's or the Courts; SecurusTech.Net has many "drop calls;" where its $1.95 for a connection and $.20 each additional minute; if you spoke to any attorney for two (2) minute's and the call is dropped; that's $3.55; And SecuruTech.Net AND Suffolk County Refuse to Reimburse those funds, Blaming it on each other.

2. Pre-Trial Detainee's, And the like, can no prepare an adequate defense due to: the system may hang up due to a noisy background (stating no 3rd party calls) when they're none.

3. Expenses of striving to buy phone time is "outrageous" on both ends; It's $5.00 for 10 or 15 minutes; in the local area, Attorney's or family when in the [3] same state with an areas code outside of 516 or 631, has to pay $10.00 with an account and $14 to $20.00 with credit cards.

4. Most Attorney's don't write nor visit pre-trial detainee's and would rather speak to the defendant's by phone yet it is impossible to do so with such system.

Belton v.,2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15694,2014 WL 524470(E.D.N.Y.Feb. 7, 2014)

Anonymous said...

On February 7, 2014, following a number of revelations concerning discovery violations [2] and the interception of defendants' privileged communications, the government filed notice that it would not seek the death penalty against either defendant.

United States v. Pedersen,2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106227(D. Or.Aug. 4, 2014)

Despite the efforts of the AUSAs, both defendants' legal calls were recorded and were provided [54] to the prosecution team. Between September 2012 and October 2013, the prosecution team received recordings of seventy-seven of Pedersen's privileged telephone calls from MCDC including fourteen calls between Pedersen and Levy, one call between Pedersen and Wolf, eleven calls between Pedersen and AFPD Manes, thirty-nine calls between Pedersen and Capital Case Specialist Debra Garvey, and twelve calls between Pedersen and McMahill. Ex. 106. These calls were recorded by Securus Technologies, a third party telephone service provider for MSCO, and the majority of the recordings were provided to Detective Steele on compact discs. Exs. 178-79, 183, 192, 201. These calls were recorded, despite the fact that the system employed by Securus Technologies does not typically record calls to a number that has been identified as belonging to an inmate's lawyer. It appears that a number of the defense team's telephone numbers had not been privatized in the Securus sytem. Tr. 373. Wolf's number had been privatized but he was recorded on one occasion nonetheless. Tr. 456; Ex. 235.

United States v. Pedersen,2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106227(D. Or.Aug. 4, 2014)

Anonymous said...

On March 16, 2012, one of Clemons' lawyers, from the New York firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, faxed a letter to the PCC warden. He referenced a March 12 letter from the warden that apparently stated that "on numerous occasions during legal calls," the outside vendor Securus had detected three-way calls.2Link to the text of the note The lawyer wrote:

No one from our office had spoken [5] to Mr. Clemons since we received your letter, but when I tried to reach him today, Potosi personnel informed me that he is in administrative segregation in connection with this three-way calling issue. Please be aware that Mr. Clemons has never asked for a "three-way call" during a legal call with attorneys from this firm, and I am not aware of anyone other than his lawyers ever being on a secure legal call with him.
(Pl.'s Ex. B, Doc. 60-1, p. 3.) The lawyer asked when and why Clemons was placed in administrative segregation, how long he was expected to remain there, and whether he could help resolve the investigation into Clemons' three-way calls. He also stated that he had called Securus but was informed it did not have records of when the calls were made, and "any information about the calls would have to come from Potosi."

Clemons v. Lombardi,2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 75752,2014 WL 2515400(E.D. Mo.June 4, 2014)

The defendants first argue that they are entitled to summary judgment because Clemons was placed in administrative segregation for actual violation of a prison rule: engaging in a three-way call. As I stated before, it is clear that participating in a three-way call is contrary to PCC rules. However — as I also stated before — it remains unclear whether Clemons did so. Clemons has submitted a letter from the law firm he was speaking with on March 9 that indicates he did not engage in a three-way call. Excerpts from Clemons' sworn deposition, filed by the defendants, do not clear up the question:

Q: Okay. Now, prior to this lawsuit and on March 9th, 2012, did you participate in a three way call?

A: I didn't make a three way call.

Q: Okay. But did you participate in a three way call?

A: I can only speak for — I never requested a three way call, and I never made a three party call myself.3Link to the text of the note
(Defs.' Ex. D, Doc. 53-5.) This factual issue is further complicated by the fact that — apparently — there is no clear definition of what constitutes a three-way call. (See Pl.'s Exs. A and B, Doc. 60-1, pp. 1-4.)4Link to the text of the note

Clemons v. Lombardi,2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 75752,2014 WL 2515400(E.D. Mo.June 4, 2014)

Anonymous said...

The above quotes are just a sample of cases filed against Securus. They apparently frequently record calls with attorneys. They charge for dropped calls. I personally have experienced being cutoff mid-conversation because of the three-way calling issue when no three-way call was ever attempted. This company is just completely incompetent and should not be awarded any government contract.

FleaStiff said...

video visitation should be all that is available. Criminals usually have criminals for friends and family; we don't want them congregating on buses or near liquor stores or public parks.

Anonymous said...

Fleastiff, that comment made you sound like a troll.

sunray's wench said...

Thanks FleaStiff, good to know those old sterotypes are still going strong. Do you explain in the same way to a 3 year old who misses her mum or dad and is too young to write them letters and read theirs in return, and just wants to sit on their knee for a while?

Criminals usually have "normal" people as their friends and family and thought it could never happen to them.

He's Innocent said...


How is it that you can justify treatment such as this when a large majority of persons incarcerated in county jails (the only users of this service in Texas) have yet to be convicted of a crime?

Consider yourself trapped in such a dilemma as being wrongfully arrested. Then consider that this happens on a Friday night. Your family cannot get funds to your account to make phone calls, you are an asshole, so thus you get beat up for your big mouth. You are finally arraigned on Monday, having never spoken to an attorney, nor your family. Then, after you are held over, you cannot look your wife, your children in the eye and tell them it is all a big mistake. You are effectively cut off from all contact from anyone. You are neutered.

Which by the way, with that attitude of yours, it sounds as if you should be neutered irregardless of your stance on this issue.

After you've experienced being incarcerated, come on back and share your opinions. I promise, you'll be much better informed. Till then.........."glass houses"

Anonymous said...

There was never in person visits at the jail except for attornies. Visits for everyone else was thru glass with a phone to talk into. Video visitation is the same thing except they are looking into a TV on a phone instead of glass and a phone. Visits at the jail are free and they get two visits per week like always. With the new video visitation they can get as many visits as they want if the person visits online.
How can you say it is not better?

jarenaud said...

Actually, Anonymous (whichever one of you said there had "never" been any contact visitation - that isn't true. My wife and daughter visited me in 1992 in TCJ, and the visits were contact. Not sure where you are getting your information from. "Never" is a long time.
And as to there being no difference between a visit via video and walking into that visitation room, seeing your wife and child, or mom or dad or just your friend, and their face lights up and you see them breathing and crying and looking you in the EYES< which you cannot do via video - there is no comparison. None at all. AND, if you tan in fact get as many visits as you want online - at $20 a pop. You do not know what you are talking about here.

Anonymous said...

If they had shown more concern for their families when in the free, maybe they would be home with them.
When they had their freedom, it was more fun to rip and run than to spend time with their baby mammas and children.

sunray's wench said...

Anon @ 4:12

At some point you have to put the inmate aside and consider the family instead. Inmates are not islands, and how you treat them impacts the rest of society as well. So your comment is reflected back to you - are you thinking of the family now that a crime may have been committed (or as others have pointed out, may not have been committed at all)?

Next time you have a bad day at the office and one to many at the bar on the way home, maybe you'll be the one being told you should have considered your family while you sit waiting for your video visit.

Anonymous said...

Tired of hearing about prisoners rights. Our State is in bad shape because of the misquided people who advocate for the prisoners. If they did not break the law they would not be there for the most part. There is always room for human error on people occassionally being innocent. Wisht the advocates would spend their time advocating for victims. Maybe one day if their family member is a victim they will change the side of the fence they are on until then they are wasting out time and money.

Anonymous said...

To 11:27 From a victim: Over incarceration is a waste of time and money. Why does Texas feel the need to lock up more of its people than any other society in the world. If the State of Texas is going to choose to lock up so many of its people, it has an obligation to take care of them. After all, isn't that the Christian thing to do. Or, do the good folks of Texas only care about Christian principles when it suits them? Seems a little hypocrictical to me, don't you think?

Having been a victim, it always irks me to here those who don't have a clue about such things to "use" victims to support their own warped agenda. If you care about victims (which you don't 11:27, you merely seek to "use" them to advance your argument) you would realize that what we should be doing as a society is helping victims to forgive. Encouraging the attitude of hatred and telling them they need to hold onto that hatred only does them more harm. It is people like you, 11:27, that continue to victimize victims to advance your own hatred and biases. If you are a Christian, as many in Texas claim to be, I suggest you read your Bible and see the position that Jesus took with the folks who wanted to stone the adulterous woman. But, of course, that may require the opening of your closed mind.

sunray's wench said...

@11.27 Tired of hearing people assume that those who have a loved one in prison cannot possibly also have compassion for, or even be, a victim as well.

We're not exclusively talking about "prisoner" rights, we're talking about the rights of a child to touch their parent as well.

Take your blinkers off.

Unknown said...

In jail or prison, everyone is listening and looking to make a deal to get out.

Jan said...

To: 10/24/2014 07:42:00 AM


Anonymous said...

It's only about the's always about the money...when Judges can require interlock devices for DUI, and their wives own the company supplying the interlock's always about the money.

When judges can get DUI's and still sit on the bench, or be paid when they leave the bench and sit in for the judges who don't want their names associated with what they "know" is a trumped up charge to satisfy a potential "donor" to the next campaign, or do a "church friend" a's still about the's always about the money. Welcome to Texas, "The NAZI State" where only the ones with the money can sleep at night with no concern for those without the money...Soon they will manage to have the incarcerated ones who don't have the money working for free in their yards and servicing their cars...its called "community service" if your fortunate enough for some in your family who still has "some " money to pay the toothless attorney who makes the "plea agreement" so he can make more of the money for less time involved with whatever your charged with, plus the bondsman so you can work and give it all to the attorney and the probation officer and the Koch brothers so they hire some more legislators to keep thios with the money having all of the money and so it goes and goes and's only about the money...just sayin!

Anonymous said...

U are so sadly unaware of the real people that are held behind bars because someone wants a power trip or someone, alot of someone's, don't care about the Human that has been put there.

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful. Yes, the victims need to forgive and also realize what part they may have played in getting the accused there. Plus the incarcerated need to have help inside..they need to be readied to come back to the world. .to reunite. Incarceration affects everyone from the family torn apart to the communities they come from and go back to. We are doing a diservice to our culture with all this incarceration. If you want the money, state of texas, then fine people and put on probation quit incarcerating them and making their families pay for everything and suffer unreasonably.

Anonymous said...

Aaaaaa-GREED!!!! (Agreed)
It is the money, not a care for the's the one thinks of the lives they ruin or impact or change, and all the children that are involved and a scarred and changed forever because their parent is taken away.

Anonymous said...

I am really sad that there will be no more face to face visitation. Video visitation won't be the same as face to face visitation. I think video visitation should be an option for people who wants it but it should not replace the face to face visitation. I find it unfair. I wish we people who are in favor of face to face visitation unite to make a big voice against this loss of privilege for us and for our love ones. I am also fearful about how well their video technology will work. Often times their phone system does not work! For Bastrop county we were told to create an account in mid October which I did last week ( web site is not user friendly!!) but Bastrop county is still not listed in the site list to be able to schedule a visit. I called the Securus customer service but no help! Needless to say that it will cost me more money to get less!