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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.

But now, more than ever, we need your help to put data & compassion into the conversation. Any gift you can make today will be matched by other donors and go twice as far.

Thank you.
—Peter Wagner, Executive DirectorDonate

Best of the blog

by Peter Wagner and Bernadette Rabuy, December 29, 2015

2015 was a year of big victories for the Prison Policy Initiative. Beyond a record number of ground-breaking reports, our campaigns took some very big steps forward and, in some cases, those victories culminated in major policy changes.

Here are some of the biggest wins in our campaigns this year:

Telephone justice

  • The Federal Communications Commission extended their regulation of inter-state calls to also apply to in-state calls, and further lowered the maximum rates and fees that can be charged. The FCC is also now requesting comments on closing the last of the loopholes, which include video visitation, email, etc.

Video visitation industry

    thumbnails of press coverage and editorial support on reining in the video visitation industry

  • Our report Screening Out Family Time: The for-profit video visitation industry in prisons and jails exposed county jails and private companies working together to replace traditional in-person visits with expensive video chats and grainy computer images.
  • Our report, combined with investigative reporting by Portland, Oregon’s Street Roots, led the Multnomah County Sheriff to announce that he would amend the county’s Securus video visitation contract to bring back in-person visits. This was the first time that a video visitation contract was ever amended to bring back in-person visits.
  • We collaborated with comedians to produce four hilarious short videos that take on the video visitation industry’s offensive claim that expensive, glitchy video visitation is just like Skype.
  • We shamed the largest provider of video visitation, Securus, into changing its policy of explicitly requiring, right in its contracts, that correctional facilities using its service ban in-person visitation. Because Securus has shifted responsibility for this repugnant decision to elected sheriffs, we now have more political leverage to encourage the use of video visitation as a supplement to in-person visitation and never as a replacement.
  • Thanks in part to our research and advocacy, a new law in Texas recognizes that virtual visits are not the same as in-person visits and mandates that each county jail provide a minimum of two in-person visits each week.
  • The Federal Communications Commission has requested comments on video visitation, due January 19, 2016.

Prison gerrymandering

Sentencing enhancement zones

Driver’s Licenses

  • Supported by our Suspending Common Sense report, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously voted to repeal a law which automatically suspends the driver’s licenses of people convicted of drug offenses unrelated to driving. This law, a relic of the War on Drugs, makes it harder for people with drug convictions to rebuild their lives. The unanimous support of the Senate and the strong state-wide editorial support from the Boston Herald to the Boston Globe to the Berkshire Eagle has us feeling good about our chances in the House.

Thank you for helping us do all of this work. Here’s to an even more successful 2016!

For more on these and other victories, be sure to see our most recent annual report.

by Peter Wagner and Bernadette Rabuy, December 29, 2015

2015 was another big year for ground-breaking data visualizations from the Prison Policy Initiative. These are our 10 favorites:

pie chart showing the number of people locked up on a given day in the United States by facility type and the underlying offense using the newest data available in December 2015
From: Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2015 where we offer some much needed clarity on the size and scope of mass incarceration by piecing together this country’s disparate systems of confinement.


graph showing the incarceration rate for women per 100,000 women of founding members of NATO with the United States having a far higher rate than the other countries

We made this graph comparing the United States’ use of prisons and jails for women with its international peers for our report States of Women’s Incarceration: The Global Context.


We made this interactive graphic of “World Women’s Incarceration Rates If Every U.S. State Were A Country” for our collaboration States of Women’s Incarceration: The Global Context with Russ Immarigeon. See also, in the full report, our graph of the growth in women’s incarceration in prisons and jails from 1910 to last year.


As part of our collaboration with the Justice Policy Institute on The Right Investment? Corrections Spending in Baltimore City we made an interactive map showing how much the state of Maryland spends each year to lock up residents of each community in Baltimore and suggesting better investments.


Travis County, Texas video visitation price vs. usage
That price-gouging of families of incarcerated people reduces use of video visitation is just one of the findings from Screening Out Family Time: The for-profit video visitation industry in prisons and jails. (And don’t miss the full report for graphical illustrations of how video visitation works and why grainy video chats are not the same as in-person visitation.)


distribution of annual incomes for incarcerated men prior to incarceration and non-incarcerated men, ages 27-42

distribution of annual incomes for incarcerated women prior to incarceration and non-incarcerated women, ages 27-42

These two graphs were produced for our report uncovering the pre-incarceration incomes of the imprisoned by gender, race, and ethnicity and comparing them to people of similar ages of people on the outside. For the whole report, see Prisons of Poverty: Uncovering the pre-incarceration incomes of the imprisoned


So how large is 1,500 feet? That distance isn’t just a number; it’s taller than the Eiffel Tower, longer than 5 football fields, and it’s more than enough to blanket all of Connecticut’s urban areas in overlapping sentencing enhancement zones. With the help of two of our interns, Elydah Joyce and Arielle Sharma, and a member of our Young Professionals Network, Jacob Mitchell, we produced an animation that we expect will help other states follow Connecticut’s lead in rolling back the worst laws passed at the height of the anti-drug hysteria of the 1980s.


chart showing how many counties are overrepresented with Black people in prison compared to portion of Black people in free population

This chart from The Racial Geography of Mass Incarceration shows that in many counties Black people in prison are overrepresented compared to the portion of Black people in the free population. Notably, many of these counties are concentrated in the far left of the graph, where Blacks make up 20% to 60% of the prison populations yet less than 5% of the free population.


Two of the four maps provided show the large numbers of facilities dispersed widely across the nation that lacked racial or ethnic parity between incarcerated people and correctional staff in 2005. The final two maps show far fewer facilities that have achieved racial or ethnic parity. Facilities with parity are concentrated primarily in states or parts of states with large Black and Latino populations.
These maps from In prisons, Blacks and Latinos do the time while Whites get the jobs show that most correctional facilities with more than 100 incarcerated Blacks or Latinos are located in places where hiring Black and Latino staff in proportional numbers to the incarcerated population is extremely difficult. The small number of facilities that have such parity are, unsurprisingly, located in parts of the country with large populations of Black or Latino residents.

by Peter Wagner, October 7, 2015

In a word: No.

Private prison companies have found ways to profit on America’s experiment with mass imprisonment, but they are, to build on Ruthie Gilmore’s analogy, less the seed or the fertilizer fueling mass incarceration and more like a parasite on the publicly-owned prison system.

The vast majority of people incarcerated in this country are incarcerated in publicly-owned prisons. Only a small minority is in facilities operated by private companies under contract with states or the federal government. (And things get a little complicated because some “outsourcing” of incarcerated people goes not to private companies but to other governments. For example, almost half of the state prison population in Louisiana is actually housed under contract with local parish governments.)

This graph illustrates the late origin and limited impact of private prisons on the national landscape of state and federal prisons:

Graph showing that private prison growth has always trailed that of public prisonsNote that the federal government didn’t even bother to track the size of private prisons until 1999 and that we calculated the size of the government-run prisons by subtracting the private prisons from the total. The data from 1987 to 2001 was collected and published by an academic in Florida with a uniquely close relationship with the industry. Due to different methodologies, the data aren’t entirely compatible but together they show the birth and initial growth of the industry follows rather than leads the prison boom. The industry’s long plateau in the last decade makes it clear that the private prison industry has largely been locked out of sizable growth.

Now, of course, the influence of private prisons will vary from state to state and they have in fact lobbied to keep mass incarceration going; but far more influential are political benefits that elected officials of both political parties harvested over the decades by being tough on crime as well as the billions of dollars earned by government-run prisons’ employees and private contractors and vendors.

The beneficiaries of public prison largess love it when private prisons get all of the attention. The more the public stays focused on the owners of private prisons, the less the public is questioning what would happen if the government nationalized the private prisons and ran every facility itself: Either way, we’d still have the largest prison system in the world.

But if private prisons aren’t at the root of mass incarceration, that doesn’t mean that private investors haven’t found ways to make our criminal justice system worse. The sins of the prison and jail telephone industry trying to charge families $1 a minute for simple telephone calls are well-documented. And the private bail industry keeps legislatures from passing sensible bail reforms that would allow poor, unconvicted people who pose no public safety threat to wait for their trial at home rather than in jail.

What I find most worrisome is the rush of private money to fuel the development of “alternatives” to incarceration like electronic monitoring or private probation services that ensnare people who previously would never have been under criminal justice system control. And worse, because many of these services are paid for by the person being monitored, they remove any fiscal barriers to large-scale unnecessary use.

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.

by Peter Wagner, August 14, 2015

Graph showing who's locked up in the U.S. in federal and state prisons, local jails, juvenile facilities, etc. One out of every three people who are locked up tonight are sitting in a local jail, not a state or federal prison. There are 3,283 jails in America, yet jails receive scant attention. The legislative, judicial and executive decisions that have fueled the explosion of our state prison populations are becoming well-known; but the myriad of subtle policy decisions that have sent our jail populations upwards are off the public’s radar.

Jails need to be a policy focus, as the Vera Institute of Justice recently argued in its aptly-titled report Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America.

Jails matter because a staggering 11 million people cycle through them each year. As we explained last year:

Jail churn is particularly high because at any given moment most of the 722,000 people in local jails have not been convicted and are in jail because they are either too poor to make bail and are being held before trial, or because they’ve just been arrested and will make bail in the next few hours or days. The remainder of the people in jail — almost 300,000 — are serving time for minor offenses, generally misdemeanors with sentences under a year.

So when we talk about jails we have to keep our eye on two numbers: the number of people in jail on a given day and the sheer volume of people who cycle through them as shown in this analysis of Bureau of Justice Statistics data:

Graph showing, for the years 2007 to 2014, the number of people -- 11 to 13 million -- a year who are admitted to jail per year and the number of people -- about 700,000 to 800,000 -- who are in jail on a given day.Addressing the problem of jails means grappling with the tremendous churn through jails. How can we lessen the numbers who enter jails and reduce the time that 11 million people spend there each year?

This “pre-trial” or “unconvicted” population is driving the growth in jail populations. In fact, 99% of the growth in jails over the last 15 years has been a result of increases in the pre-trial population:

Graph showing the number of people in jails from 1983 to 2014 by whether they have been convicted or not. The number of convicted people stopped growing in 1999, but the number of unconvicted people continues to grow.Virtually all of the growth in the jail population has been in the number of legally innocent people who are detained in jails.

These people are legally considered innocent until proven otherwise in court. But if they don’t have the money to post bail, the principle that they are legally innocent is not enough to keep them from being locked up until trial. A recent New York Times feature found that poverty is a frequent cause of pre-trial detention: in New York City even when bail is set at $500 or less, 85% of defendants were unable to afford bail.

Besides the injustice of our jails resembling modern day debtor’s prisons, excessive bail can have other harmful effects. Family life is disrupted, jobs and housing can be lost, and the combined effects can literally be fatal. Pre-trial detention also coerces people to plead guilty to minor offenses, including people who are factually innocent like the man featured in the New York Times article. Studies have also shown that people who are detained pretrial are more likely to be convicted than those who are able to afford bail.

Fortunately, the movement for bail reform is growing in places like New York City and the state of Massachusetts. But at the same time as we work to fix bail, we really should admit that the problem starts even before a bail hearing.

As Peter Goldberg, executive director of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund put it in the New York Times article:

And the truth is, even meaningful bail reform is just the beginning. The real work is asking why we’re arresting so many people on low-level offenses in the first place, and why so many of them come from poor black and brown communities. Bail is easy.

Or to be more precise: fixing bail should be easy. Why it’s taking so long is a good question and getting to the bottom of this country’s jail problem is going to depend on both reducing the number of people we send to jail each year and making it far easier for those who have been arrested to resume their lives while the judicial process proceeds.

by Peter Wagner, August 11, 2015

Last week, Shaila Dewan had a brilliant story in the New York Times about how probation sentences set people up to fail: Probation May Sound Light, but Punishments Can Land Hard. The article follows a woman who was arrested for drunk driving, her first offense of any kind, and whose life entered a very expensive spiral, including the loss of two jobs and having to pay almost $4,000 in fees, fines, and court costs and $2,000 to post bail. In addition, she was forced to spend 34 days in the dirty, dank, dangerous and disgraceful Baltimore jail simply because she was unable to find attendance slips from her required A.A. meetings, and she could not afford another $2,500 bail bond to get out of jail time.

Because many people on probation fail to meet the conditions of their community supervision, probation often isn’t the alternative to incarceration it’s made out to be. The harm of probation would be important even if probation were rare; but more than half the people under correctional control are on probation.

Graph showing that for the last 40 years more people have been on probation than in prison or on parole.Since the beginning of the statistics almost 40 years ago, the probation population has grown much more quickly than either the number of people on parole or the number of people in federal, state and local prisons and jails. While about 2.3 million U.S. residents were behind bars in 2012, almost 4 million residents were under probation.

Like imprisonment, there is tremendous variation between the states on the use of probation, but these differences aren’t parallel. For example, Rhode Island has the 48th highest incarceration rate, but the third highest rate of probation.

As the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center has shown, Rhode Island’s probation sentences are 53% longer than the U.S. average, and it’s one of 14 states that doesn’t cap how long probation sentences can be. (Thirty-two states have limited probation sentences to no more than 5 years.) Further, the Justice Center says that they have anecdotal evidence that probation isn’t being used as an alternative because “a large portion of felonies receive split sentences” that include both prison and probation.

Last month, Rhode Island’s governor created the Justice Reinvestment Working Group in order to get to the bottom of the state’s use of probation. One answer I hope the group will uncover as they develop a path to more reasonable uses of correctional control is exactly why Rhode Island decided to leave its neighbors behind in the use of probation:

Graph showing that since 1989, Rhode Island has had a much higher portion of its population on probation than the other New England states.The rate of probation in Rhode Island is more than twice as high as the rate of probation in most other New England states. (Massachusetts was not included in the graph above because the state changed its reporting methods multiple times during the previous decade. However, in the most current available data, Massachusetts reported a rate of 1,033 adults on probation per 100,000 residents, less than half Rhode Island’s rate of 2,268 per 100,000 residents.)

May 6, 2015


Bernadette Rabuy
(413) 527-0845

Easthampton, MA — On Monday, Securus, the video visitation industry leader, announced that it will no longer explicitly require county jails and state prisons to replace traditional family visits with video visits. Securus CEO Richard A. Smith stated that the billion-dollar phone and video visitation company “found that in ‘a handful’ of cases,” Securus was including a clause that “could be perceived as restricting onsite and/or person-to-person contact.”

But Securus’s new policy is much more significant than Securus’s announcement implies, says Bernadette Rabuy of the Prison Policy Initiative. “There is clear language banning in-person visits in 70% of the Securus contracts we examined for our report, Screening Out Family Time: The for-profit video visitation industry in prisons and jails.” The contracts plainly read: “For non-professional visitors, Customer will eliminate all face to face visitation through glass or otherwise at the Facility.”

This offensive clause was brilliantly challenged by comedians Ted Alexandro and Ben Rosen, arguing about whether video visitation lives up to the industry’s claims that it’s “just like Skype:”

While many of Securus’s competitors have worked with sheriffs to replace in-person visits with video visits, Securus was the only video visitation company that dictated correctional visitation policy in the contract. This clause has been controversial. After public protest, the Portland, Oregon Sheriff was the first to successfully amend an existing Securus video visitation contract, and in Dallas County, Texas county legislators were able to eliminate the clause before signing a contract with Securus.

Video visitation is a promising technology that could make it easier and more affordable for families to stay in touch despite the challenges of incarceration. But as it is too often implemented, going high-tech has been a step in the wrong direction.

“This announcement won’t necessarily bring back in-person visitation,” said the Prison Policy Initiative’s Bernadette Rabuy. “Traditionally, video visitation companies and sheriffs have played the blame game, neither has been willing to take responsibility for banning in-person visits. Now that Securus is shifting moral responsibility to the sheriffs, the Prison Policy Initiative will be working with concerned families across the country to ensure that sheriffs reverse these draconian policies.”


by Bernadette Rabuy, January 29, 2015

Yesterday we received some very exciting news! Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton is reversing the ban on in-person visits in Portland jails and announced that families will now have the opportunity to visit incarcerated loved ones via video or in-person.

This is a tremendous victory that was made possible by powerful and consistent investigative reporting done by Street Roots — which first broke the story about video visitation in Portland earlier this month — as well as pressure from the public and county legislators who asked the sheriff to reconsider the elimination of in-person visits.

As we explain in our new report, Screening Out Family Time: The for-profit video visitation industry in prisons and jails, families have been extremely unhappy when video visits are implemented to take away traditional visits. Unfortunately, some of the biggest companies in the industry like Securus claim that they must ban in-person visits in order to be profitable. In our report, we found that another company TurnKey Corrections has actually had the opposite experience: if facilities give families more visitation options, they will be more likely to use the paid, remote video visits. Preserving in-person visits can be better for not only incarcerated people and their families, but also for facilities and companies.

The Portland victory is so important because:

  • Multnomah County is amending a contract it had already signed with Securus that explicitly banned in-person visits. According to the sheriff’s press release, “The contract amendment has been verbally agreed to and will be completed by the end of the week.” Apparently, correctional facilities can bring back in-person visits if they really want to.
  • Just like we saw in Dallas County, we have further proof that if the public is activated, we can protect families by beating back harmful visitation policies!

Hopefully, the following Oregon counties will follow Multnomah County’s lead and reverse their bans on in-person visits:

  • Clackamas County
  • Deschutes County
  • Josephine County
  • Lincoln County
  • Northern Oregon Regional Correctional (NORCOR) Facility (serves Gilliam, Hood River, Sherman, and Wasco counties)

Other facilities that have Securus video visitation should also take note and reconsider whether restricting traditional visits is necessary or, rather, unnecessarily punitive.

by Bernadette Rabuy and Peter Wagner, December 23, 2014

Yesterday, we published our list of the best investigative criminal justice journalism of 2014. For that list, we decided to exclude any story that we were featured in or involved with in any way. Today, we share the most important news stories of 2014 that we played a role in:

  • America’s prison population: Who, what, where and why
    by Jon Fasman
    The Economist, March 13, 2014
    This article reviews our Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie report and then reviews their past editorials to conclude: “America locks up too many people for too many things.” Today, nine months later, this article is still one of the major drivers of traffic to our website.
  • The Leader of the Unfree World: Mass incarceration, perhaps the greatest social crisis in modern American history, is without parallel on a global scale
    by Matt Ford
    The Atlantic July 23, 2014
    This article connects the dots between our Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie and States of Incarceration: The Global Context reports and concludes:

    None of this is new information for the activists and scholars who’ve worked on prison and criminal-justice reform for years. But for the general public, a crucial first step is to denormalize the current system. This is not the way it has always been–and this is not the way it has to be.

  • Phoning From Prison, at Prices Through the Roof
    by David Segel
    New York Times, February 2, 2014
    In this “The Haggler” column, the New York Times takes on the prison telephone industry to show why the exploitation of families of incarcerated people is an urgent consumer protection matter.
  • Unfair Phone Charges for Inmates
    by New York Times editorial board
    New York Times, January 6, 2014

    This editorial about our public comment to the Federal Communications Commission about the need to regulate the video visitation industry put the issue of video visitation on the national agenda. Our connections in Dallas and much of the press work we did on video visitation grew out of this editorial.
    (Stay tuned for a a big release from us on this topic in January 2015.)

  • Mass Incarceration in the US
    by Hank Green
    More than a million people have watched Hank Green’s 4-minute video that helps this country understand that the war on crime is failed policy and that “we are living inside a $75 billion a year failed experiment.”
  • Orange Is the New Green: Is Knox County’s New Video-Only Visitation Policy for Inmates Really About Safety — or Is it About Money?
    by Cari Wade Gervin
    Metro Pulse (Knoxville, Tenn.), July 2, 2014
    This was one of, if not the, most comprehensive pieces about the video visitation industry in 2014. Sadly, this paper suddenly closed in mid-October 2014. It will be missed.
  • Serial’s $2,500 Phone Bill and the Prison-Calling Racket
    by Joshua Brustein
    Bloomberg Businessweek, December 17, 2014
    This story artfully reviews the coming showdown at the FCC between the companies who say they want reform and the people who really do.
  • Captive Constituents: Prison population beefs up some Alabama districts
    by Tim Lockette
    The Anniston Star, June 29, 2014
    This piece nicely profiles a city council ward where more than a quarter of the people in one ward are incarcerated. And the councilman who represents that district? He agrees with us — and hundreds of similar communities across the country — that the prison gerrymandering that results from the Census Bureau’s method of counting people in prison is wrong.
  • Prison Overcrowding Threatens Public Safety and State Budgets
    by Audrey Williams
    American Legislator, April 8, 2014
    This article on the blog of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) discussed our Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie report to conclude:

    The Prison Policy Initiative has, indeed, given us the “whole pie”–ipso facto altering the original question. Rather than asking “how many people are locked up,” the question has become “does it really make sense to be imprisoning this many people?”

  • R.I’s new House speaker has a captive constituency
    by Edward Fitzpatrick
    Providence Journal, April 1, 2014
    ProJo columnist Ed Fitzpatrick, who has long covered prison gerrymandering and other democracy issues, ruminates on the origins of the House speaker’s political power.
  • A price too high for calls from jail
    by The Dallas Morning News Editorial Board
    The Dallas Morning News, November 10, 2014
    In this editorial, The Dallas Morning News urges Dallas County elected officials to carefully weigh the pros and cons of video visitation. It powerfully declares, “The county should not be in the business of exploiting prisoners and their families to balance the budget.”
  • Idea blackout
    by Houston Chronicle Editorial Board
    Houston Chronicle, September 12, 2014
    This piece stresses that video visitation is not the same as in-person visitation and describes the crucial tie between family bonds and rehabilitation.

by Peter Wagner, November 11, 2014

Today, in a partial reversal, the Dallas County Commissioners Court approved a new contract with jail telephone giant Securus.

In 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 replaced them with expensive computer visitation. The County voted to reopen the bidding to the previous finalists based on new criteria that would prioritize family communication. The County then discovered — so it says — that this step was prohibited by Texas law, so negotiations with Securus ensued to make changes to their previous proposal.

The new contract drops the mandatory ban on in-person visitation, but maintains a troubling requirement that Securus, in addition to the installation of video visitation machines for incarcerated people to use, builds an on-site video visitation center at a cost of more than $200,000 to be paid for by the families. This is troubling because the only purpose for such machines would be to replace the current system of through-the-glass visitation that the county and its sheriff claim they intend to keep.

County Judge Clay Jenkins, the county’s top elected official, led a strong resistance, calling for more time for public debate and offering a compromise proposal endorsed by Texas CURE, SumOfUs and the Prison Policy Initiative that would have barred the construction of the on-site video visitation center, phased-out the commissions on telephone calls after this year, lowered Securus’s video visitation charge and their deposit fee, and required the contract to automatically include within 30 days any new consumer protections imposed by the Federal Communications Commission.

Unfortunately, Judge Jenkins was unsuccessful at both stopping the contract and winning permission to allow all of the assembled Dallas residents to speak. (Two of the Commissioners voted against extending the time, with one claiming that the issue had received more attention than any other. Judge Jenkins responded that while that was true, unlike other controversial issues, the public and the media were speaking with one voice in opposition to this contract.) Judge Jenkins voted against the contract, but all four of the other commissioners voted to approve the contract today.

However, there were at least four smaller victories today:

  • The county forced Securus to offer a per-minute rate rather than a fixed price for each phone call. While the per-call price can sometimes be cheaper for very long calls, in actual use, this pricing structure is more expensive and gives the vendor a financial incentive to “accidentally” drop calls and require expensive reconnection.
  • The contract does not ban in-person visits, and the current elected officials are all on record in opposition to banning in-person visits. (We’ll need to carefully monitor the situation to ensure that the county doesn’t directly change course or find more subtle ways to discourage through-the-glass visitation.)
  • Judge Jenkins’s fair-minded compromise and the underlying principle on “the gross unfairness of imposing hefty fees on those least able to afford them: the poor who dominate the inmate population” was endorsed by the Dallas Morning News.
  • From all of the attention this issue received from Texas public, the media and nationally, it’s clear that almost this entire country — basically everyone who doesn’t have a financial stake in the alternative — thinks that maintaining direct communication between incarcerated people and their loved ones is important. Now that that has been established, it will be much harder for the industry to win further victories elsewhere.

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