Video Visitation's End?

Bill requiring in-person visits for inmates may not benefit those at Travis County

Sarah Eckhardt (Photo by John Anderson)

Governor Greg Abbott has until Sunday to veto or sign into law HB 549, a bill that would require correctional complexes around the state to allow inmates two free 20-minute in-person visits each week.

Locally, the issue's been a hot one since 2009, when the Travis County Correctional Complex implemented Securus Video Visitation systems into its newest (and largest) housing unit. The county has installed the technology into other housing units since. (More than 12 counties across Texas use the service.) Now, whenever an inmate wants to speak with a family or loved one, those involved must spend $20 for a 20-minute video conference that plays out like a bad Skype call. More than 75% of the payment goes to Securus, the Dallas-based company currently being sued by both the Texas Civil Rights Project (who claim Securus facilitated the illegal recording of privileged conversations between TCCC inmates and their attorneys) and Denton law firm Bodkin, Niehaus, & Dickson (who claim Securus' contract with Denton County, requiring that the county offer only Securus-brand video visitation, creates a monopoly).

HB 549 does present one wrinkle, however: Language stipulates that pre-existing facilities which have "incurred significant design, engineering, or construction costs to provide prisoner visitation" may continue business as usual. That applies to the TCCC, but a changing of the county guard suggests that leadership may take the necessary steps to re-implement in-person visitation. As the Austin Monitor reported Friday, both first-year Travis County Judge Sarah Eck­hardt and the three men currently in the mix to replace departing Sheriff Greg Hamilton – TCSO Sergeant Don Rios, former APD Lieutenant John Sisson, and TCSO Chief Deputy Jim Sylvester – have advocated for the reinstatement of in-person visitation.

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Travis County Correctional Complex, 84th Legislature, Greg Abbott, HB 549, Travis County Commissioners Court, Sarah Eckhardt, Greg Hamilton, Securus

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