One of the few things a jail inmate has to look forward to is a visit from a friend or a loved one. The Texas Observer reports that some jails are eliminating in-person visitation and requiring instead the use of a video visitation system sold by Dallas-based Securus Technologies. Critics say it's an outrageous profiteering scheme that has no policy rationale and could actually deteriorate security at jails. Securus markets its system as a cost-saver for jails and a convenience for family members who live far from their incarcerated loved ones. The structure of the deals suggests there are powerful financial incentives for jails to curb or eliminate face-to-face visitation.
Securus charges callers as much as a dollar a minute to use its video services, and jails get a 20 to 25 percent cut. For big-city jails, that could mean millions in extra money. “We believe Securus sees Texas county jails as a really ripe market for them,” said Kymberlie Quong Charles of the prison reform group Grassroots Leadership. Securus is a major provider of phone services for jails and prisons, but the Federal Communications Commission is cracking down on what it considers exorbitant rates. Video visitation could offer a source of revenue at a time of sagging profits for the industry. In Dallas, activists and some local leaders helped kill a contract with Securus that included a requirement that the jail eliminate all in-person visits.