Saturday, May 23, 2015

In-person-visitation bill nears finish line, grandfathers video-only facilities

Legislation by Rep. Eric Johnson (SB 549) to require most Texas county jails to provide in-person visitation (grandfathering a baker's dozen that built video only facilities in the last few years) has cleared committee in the second chamber this week and will soon become eligible for approval by the full senate. Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire is carrying the bill in the senate. A Dallas News editorial last weekend explained why it's urgent that the bill pass this session:
More and more counties will build or retrofit their jails to prevent inmates and their families from being together in the same space.

Why? The main reason is cost. It’s cheaper to require video visits. It cleans up the complication of having non-inmates in and out of the jail.

But there are many things that could lower the cost of incarceration that we don’t do because they are simply wrong. This should be one of them.

As it is, inmates aren’t able to have physical contact with visitors. They must meet on either side of a thick glass window. But the difference between being able to see the real person, to be in the presence of a wife or child, is only describable if you have been denied it.

And remember, this is jail — not prison. These are primarily people behind bars waiting for trial and presumed innocent.

In large counties, more than a month can pass before a trial happens. That’s a long time not to see a loved one in person.

If the Senate fails to pass a bill protecting in-person visitation, it’s possible, even likely, that counties will rush to retrofit their jails to prohibit the practice.
I'd prefer they take out the grandfathering. There haven't been that many new jails built in the last few years, these are mostly facilities which retrofitted their jails to eliminate in-person visitation. Apparently this was needed to secure votes, but that doesn't mean it's a great idea - a bit like closing the barn door after 13 horses have escaped.

See additional coverage from the Longview News Journal.


Anonymous said...

Maybe add a provision to the bill that will cut the pork away from vendors providing the video conference visitation. Can't verify this but I have been told that families or inmates have to pay in 15 minute increments to visit with incarcerated family via video conferencing. Akin to another way to make revenue off commissary. Can anyone verify that there is a cost to family or inmate to visit by video?

Jorge Antonio Renaud said...

If you go to visit via video at the jail itself, it's free. However, most jails also offer, and indeed push, visitors to register online to get visits from home on their computer, and that can cost up to 20 bucks for 20 minutes. A portion of that goes to the county, usually the general revenue fund.

sunray's wench said...

Please don't think that all video visits are a bad thing. For friends and family who live a long way from the inmate, they can be a valuable tool in helping people stay connected. TDCJ could do worse than introducing them, as other states have done, as long as they do not completely replace in-person visitation.

Grandma said...

I have seen this in practice in another state. The one benefit we see is for those who have a loved one in another state. Out of the last four times when trying to log in to visit, we were unable to do so. There are various reasons given, but trying to get it 'fixed' is solely the burden of the family it seems. AND, it does cost money each time whether you connect or not.
Each time an inmate is moved from one pod to another the system doesn't catch up quickly. It is very frustrating. I believe out of the last six times we tried to contact our guy four of those did not happen.
I agree that in-person visitation is best, and should not be completely replaced by the video system, but the videos do provide a 'tool' that is helpful to some. Many people do not live close enough to visit in person with their loved one.

Robert Langham said...

Wait MONTH for a trial? In Smith County, you are locked up until you plead guilty to SOMETHING.

I wonder what the economic impact of a felony conviction is?

He's Innocent said...

The big question for me is this: What about the counties such as Bastrop that have moved to video only, but have the facilities to do in person visit? In fact, Bastrop has a near brand new visiting facility. It opened somewhere between Nov2009 & Aug2011. And to be more precise, Bastrop has TWO areas for window visits within their jail.

Will counties such as Bastrop be grandfathered? Or will I have to raise holy hell if my husband is hauled back in on some stupid revocation of his probation?

Who will give a damn? Likely nobody.

Anonymous said...

I would modify your last statement to "a bit like closing the barn doors after 13 horses escaped and are standing right outside the gate"

Anonymous said...

A month for trial? I have filed motions for speedy trial in many cases, the quickest I have ever seen trial after filing one is 2.5 months.