Face-to-Face Visitation Returns to Travis County

Change currently affects certain inmates in Del Valle

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt
Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt (photo by john anderson)

In-person visits returned to the Travis County Correctional Complex on Tuesday, marking the first time since 2013 that inmates have been able to communicate on-site with their loved ones face-to-face through Plexiglas panes – and not video conference terminals installed by a for-profit company.

The change, a clearing point in a years-long effort to return in-person visitation to county jails throughout Texas, currently affects a certain subset of inmates at Del Valle. At present, those considered eligible for face-to-face visitation must be held at minimum or medium security levels, have been incarcerated for more than 60 days, and have not had any disciplinary infractions during their incarceration. Such visits may occur between 9am and 1pm every day, except Mondays, when visits aren’t available. Video conferencing remains available for loved ones who can’t make it to the jail for in-person visits.

A spokesperson for the Travis County Sheriff’s Office said that 23 visitors stopped by the Del Valle complex on Tuesday.

Advocates for the return of in-person visitation scored a major victory last September, when the Travis County Commissioners Court voted in favor of a $707,000 measure to bring the more intimate arrangement back to the county jail. At the time, the commissioners were deliberating whether or not the county actually had to do anything. HB 549, the law mandating that county jails afford inmates two 20-minute in-person visits each week that they’re in custody, which passed last legislative session, included a grandfather clause indicating that Texas counties need not comply with the law so long as the county incurred a significant cost to implement the video conferencing.

That was originally believed to be the case with Travis County. The county incurred a $777,556 cost in bringing Securus into the fold. However, it was determined early in October that the hefty cost was actually the result of removing a pre-dated system from the complexes. Securus paid for its own installation – the company receives more than 75% of the profits made on each call to an inmate.

TCSO Public Information Officer Roger Wade said there is no current plan or timeline for complete implementation of in-person visitation to all inmates, citing staff shortages. The TCSO received funding for 17 new full-time employees in advance of in-person visitation, and carries a number of vacancies on top of that. A need for new scheduling software also makes it tough for the office to have any idea how long complete implementation should take. Wade said the jail hopes to allow visits during other work shifts soon (outside of the 9-1 time frame) and acknowledged the law will soon require in-person visitation be made available to all inmates at the jail. “If we need to pay for overtime, we will,” he said.

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Face-to-Face Visitation, Travis County Jail, Travis County Correctional Complex, HB 549, Travis County Commissioners, Sarah Eckhardt

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