Dallas County rejects Securus video visitation contract!

by Peter Wagner, September 9, 2014

Today the Dallas County Commissioners Court refused to approve a proposed contract with prison telephone giant Securus. The contract would have required the jail to end visiting hours and instead force families to pay for expensive video visits via computer.

After County Judge Clay Jenkins courageously spoke out against the proposed contract, a movement quickly came together, coordinated by Texas CURE, to urge the other County Commissioners to support Judge Jenkins. (In Texas, the county legislature is called a “Commissioners Court” and the person elected county-wide to be the county’s chief administrator is called the County Judge. For more, see this wikipedia article. )

As I argued in a New York Times Room for Debate feature, prison and jail video communication has the potential to offer additional avenues for critical family communication, but charging unconscionable sums and banning free in-person visits is a step in entirely the wrong direction.

Today, after several hours of eloquent and unanimous testimony and the submission of more than 2,000 petitions from SumOfUs and other petitions collected on NationInside and Change.org, we beat back this horrible proposal!

Now things got a little complicated procedurally, but this was a big, albeit interim, win. The Commissioners Court didn’t approve Judge Jenkins’s order to reject this contract and start over with completely new criteria that would prioritize getting the best service possible for both families and Dallas County, but the Court soundly rejected the two most critical parts of the proposed contract: the ban on in-person visitation and the collection of commissions for video visitation. (At least one commissioner supports commissions in the phone context, but many are opposed there as well.)

As I understand it, the Commissioners Court voted to propose changes to the contract to:

  • protect in-person visitation
  • renounce the commission on video visitation
  • seek clarity on other details, including the number of video visitation terminals that would be provided.

The County proposed to, at next week’s meeting, approve a new request for “Best and Final Offers” based on the county’s new and improved understanding of the importance of keeping families together, and then to send these new requirements out to all of the bidders on the contract to solicit new proposals.

Obviously, some details remain to be worked out, but what seemed clear to us watching the video of the hearing is that the Commissioners Court now understands that in-person visitation is important and that it shouldn’t let Securus — or any vendor — entice the county into breaking up families just to make an extra buck.

Stay tuned for how we can ensure that Dallas finalizes a contract that supports families and benefits all residents of the County, and stay tuned for our forthcoming report on the video visitation industry.

8 Responses

  1. susan DiGiacomo says, 2 days, 8 hours after publication:

    Thank God enough people had the good sense to speak out against any attempt to curtail in person visits. Its sickening what some people will do for money. Shame on you Securis

  2. Denise Millet says, 2 days, 17 hours after publication:

    These contractors are, obviously, not human! Thank you Judge Clay Jenkins for recognizing that visits are vital to families and the prisoner.
    The video visits are not part of the sentence…

  3. VictorCroasdale says, 2 days, 17 hours after publication:

    The discussion should not be about visit versus video, it should be about banning for profit prisons.
    These for profit prisons should be banned altogether.
    The state (any state) SHOULD NOT LET private companies run public services.

    1. Bernadette Rabuy says, 2 days, 18 hours after publication:

      I don’t think the discussion is about in-person visits versus video but rather the idea that, if correctional facilities are going to provide video visitation services, they should do so in addition to allowing in-person visits, and they should do so without exploiting the families of incarcerated individuals with high fees and commissions. I don’t think we can say that video visitation is just, plain and simple, bad. It could be useful. For example, if an incarcerated individual has a lawyer who lives very far from the facility, it may actually save the lawyer time and money to have access to video visitation. (Although we have seen privacy issues in Travis County, TX)

  4. Joyce Larsen says, 1 week after publication:

    Thank you Judge Clay Jenkins! The prison system is already de-humanizing and contact visits are vital for the sanity of prisoners and their families. Shame on Securis and all the companies that ONLY think of profits. It seems everything is for sale these days – how about showing some humanity?

  5. Dallas County approves video visitation contract | Prison Policy Initiative says, 2 months after publication:

    […] September, after hours of eloquent and unanimous testimony, the County’s legislative body rejected a proposed contract that would have explicitly banned in-person visits at the jail and repl…. The County voted to reopen the bidding to the previous finalists based on new criteria that would […]

  6. Multnomah County Sheriff reverses ban on in-person visits in Portland jails! | Prison Policy Initiative says, 4 months, 3 weeks after publication:

    […] like we saw in Dallas County, we have further proof that if the public is activated, we can protect families by beating back […]

  7. A year of propelling the criminal justice reform movement forward | Prison Policy Initiative says, 1 year after publication:

    […] video visitation industry and have already won victories protecting in-person family visits in Dallas County, Texas and Portland, […]

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