I need your help. I co-founded the Prison Policy Initiative to put the problem of mass incarceration — and the perverse incentives that fuel it — on the national agenda. Over the last 16 years, our campaigns have protected our democracy from the prison system and protected the poorest families in this country from the predatory prison telephone industry. Our reports untangle the statistics and recruit new allies.

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—Peter Wagner, Executive DirectorDonate

In-person family visits will return to Austin, Texas

by Bernadette Rabuy, September 30, 2015

We are excited to share another victory in the struggle to protect traditional in-person visits from the exploitative video visitation industry. Yesterday, thanks to the hard work of families of incarcerated people, Grassroots Leadership, and other allies, Travis County, Texas legislators voted to bring back in-person visits that were completely eliminated from Austin jails in 2013.

Our January 2015 report, Screening Out Family Time: The for-profit video visitation industry in prisons and jails, found that not only did visits decrease by 28% after the sheriff banned in-person visits, but also that most families could not afford the high cost of remote video chats:

Graph showing that when Travis County offered remote video chats at a lower price, usage went upThrough an open records request, we collected the video visitation usage data of Travis County, Texas from September 2013 to September 2014, finding that when Securus and the county charged the typical rate of $1 per minute, families barely used remote video visits. When promotional rates were offered, usage went up. But overall video visitation remained unpopular even when offered at approximately $0.20 per minute.

Our research found that Texas is one of the states with the greatest use of video visitation in the country, but fortunately families and advocates have been quick to stand up for the right of families to keep in touch and support their incarcerated loved ones. Last fall, thanks to community pressure, Dallas County, Texas rejected a Securus video visitation contract that would have required the elimination of in-person visits. And just last month a statewide law went into effect that protects in-person family visits by clarifying that the Texas Commission on Jail Standard’s requirement of at least two visits per week refers to in-person visits, not computer chats.

While the Texas law is a major step forward in rejecting the use of video as a replacement to in-person visits, more than 30 counties have applied to be exempted. We hope that these counties will follow in the footsteps of Travis County and listen to families who have long been saying video chats are simply not the same as in-person visits.

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