Video visitation for inmates remains in limbo

Mike McGee | 9/25/2014, 6:09 a.m.
The specifics for a plan that would allow Securus Technologies to bring video visitation to the county jail continued to ...
John Wiley Price, county commissioner for District 3, listens to the Commissioners Court legal team regarding discussion of jail video visitations at the Sept. 16 meeting. Further discussion of the contract with Securus Technologies took place at the next Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday. Mike McGee

The Dallas Examiner

The specifics for a plan that would allow Securus Technologies to bring video visitation to the county jail continued to be worked out by the Dallas County Commissioners Court at its Sept. 16 meeting. No new details about the plan were presented at the meeting since the court declined to approve a contract for the service during its Sept. 9 meeting. At that time, the court reconsidered the contract Securus had with the county to replace traditional face-to-face jail visitation with video visitation. The visitation would take place either at the jail itself or online from a home computer.

The contract as it was written has been met with disdain by many county residents. During the period for public commentary at the Sept. 9 meeting, numerous speakers suggested a variety of reasons for commissioners to reexamine the contract. Arguments as varied as the emotional burden the video visitation plan would place upon the families of those incarcerated, to the plan’s possible cost, to taxpayers and to the potential violations of attorney/client privilege were offered to county leaders.

The result of that meeting was a decision by the court that video visitation would be used in addition to traditional visitation rather than as a replacement.

“Video visitation should be an option to make it easier for families to visit their loved ones who are incarcerated,” District 4 Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia voiced at that time. “It should not be the only way to visit those in our jail.”

She also revealed that the contract was going to go through a best and final offer proposal with five of the original contract bidders. Garcia’s district includes Cockrell Hill and is a large segment of Oak Cliff.

At the Sept. 16 meeting, video visitation was not on the agenda for open debate. Instead, it was an item listed for deliberation with the county’s legal counsel in a closed executive session.

Licensed professional counselor Philip Taylor was the lone speaker to address the subject during the public commentary period near the end of the meeting. This sharply contrasted with the nearly 20 speakers who addressed the court at the Sept. 9 meeting.

Taylor spoke against the plan, drawing on his 20 years of experience of working with those who have been incarcerated.

“The criminal justice system has a tendency to drift toward dehumanizing its inmates. That doesn’t do them good or us good,” he said.

Taylor emphasized that a key element for former inmates to successfully return to the community is to keep them connected with family and friends.

“And, with rare exceptions, they always return to the community,” he added.

The counselor admitted that in-home video visitation would be a “wonderful thing” on occasion but cautioned that there was no substitute for a “warm body” of an incarcerated individual when it came to communication. He also praised the technology that allowed video visitation to be an additional tool for the jail to utilize, but warned the court that it would not serve as a cure-all.