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Screening Out Family Time, Prison Policy Initiative, 2015

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PRISON
POLICY INITIATIVE

AC KNOWLEDGMENTS
This report was made possible by the passion of hundreds of people for
a fair communications system. This report was supported by the
Returning Home Foundation, by the individual donors who invest in our
work so that we can take on critical emerging issues like video visitation,
and by the American Constitution Society David Carliner Public Interest
Award awarded to Peter Wagner in June 2014. We are grateful for the
research help provided by family members, incarcerated people, and
company officials who answered questions and shared their experiences,
for Eric Lotke’s and Dee Ann Newell’s assistance with open records
requests in their states, and for Brian Dolinar’s and Jorge Renaud’s
invaluable research that they chose to share with us. We could not have
developed effective ways to illustrate the human cost of video visitation
without the fresh ideas of Elydah Joyce, Jazz Hayden, and Mara
Lieberman. Jazz Hayden generously modeled for the cover image and
Figures 3 and 4; Elydah Joyce drew Figures 1, 9, and 10 and took the
cover photograph. Throughout the research and drafting process, our
colleagues Aleks Kajstura, Drew Kukorowski, and Leah Sakala offered
invaluable feedback and assistance.
We dedicate this report to the people of Dallas County, Texas, who
showed that it is possible to stand up to a video visitation giant and reject
a contract that would have banned in-person visitation.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Bernadette Rabuy is a Policy & Communications Associate at the
Prison Policy Initiative and a 2014 graduate of the University of
California, Berkeley. Her previous experience includes work with the
National Council on Crime and Delinquency, Voice of the Ex-Offender,
and Californians United for a Responsible Budget.
Peter Wagner is an attorney and the Executive Director of the Prison
Policy Initiative and a co-author of the Prison Policy Initiative’s oft-cited
exposé Please Deposit All of Your Money: Kickbacks, Rates, and Hidden Fees
in the Jail Phone Industry.

ABOUT THE PRISON POLICY INITIATIVE
The non-profit, non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative was founded in
2001 to challenge over-criminalization and mass incarceration through
research, advocacy, and organizing. We show how the United States’
excessive and unequal use of punishment and institutional control harms
individuals and undermines our communities and national well-being.
The Easthampton, Massachusetts-based organization is most famous for
its work documenting how mass incarceration skews our democracy and
how the prison and jail telephone industry punishes the families of
incarcerated people. The organization’s groundbreaking reports and its
work with SumOfUs to collect 60,000 petitions for the Federal
Communications Commission have been repeatedly cited in the FCC’s
orders.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
For more information, including additional copies of this report and
up-to-date information about fair telephone rates and fair visitation
policies for families of the incarcerated, see http://www.prisonpolicy.org/
visitation/

PR ISON
POLICY INITIATIVE

Prison Policy Initiative
PO Box 127 Northampton MA 01061
http://www.prisonpolicy.org

SCREENING OUT FAMILY TIME:

The for-profit video visitation industry in prisons and jails
A Prison Policy Initiative report

Executive Summary
Video technology like Skype or FaceTime can be a great way to stay
together for people who are far apart. It is not the same as being there in
person, but it is better than a phone call or sending a letter.
Given that there are 2.2 million people who are incarcerated, often
many hundreds of miles from their homes, it should be no surprise that
prison and jail video visitation is quietly sweeping the nation.
But video visitation is not like Skype or FaceTime. For one, these wellknown technologies are a high-quality, free supplement to time spent
together, in-person. The video visitation that is sweeping through U.S.
jails is almost the exact opposite.
In order to stimulate demand for their low-quality product, jails and
video visitation companies work together to shut down the traditional inperson visitation rooms and instead require families to pay up to $1.50 per
minute for visits via computer screen.
In this report, we collect the contracts and the experiences of the
facilities, the families, and the companies. We:
• Determine how this industry works, and explain the key differences
between video visitation in jails (where it is most common and most
commonly implemented in explicitly exploitative ways) and video
visitation in prisons (where there is a proven need for the service and
where prices are more reasonable yet the service is actually pretty
rare).
• Hold the industry’s fantastic promises up against the hard evidence
of experience, including the industry’s own commission reports.
• Give hard data showing just how unpopular this service is. We
analyze the usage data, and then walk through exactly why families
consider this unreliable and poorly designed technology a serious
step backwards.
• Identify the patterns behind the worst practices in this industry,
finding that the most harmful practices are concentrated in facilities
that contract with particular companies.
• Analyze why the authors of correctional best practices have already
condemned the industry’s preferred approach to video visitation.
• Review the unanimous opposition of major editorial boards to
business models that try to profit off the backs of poor families,
when we should be rewarding families for trying to stay together.
• Identify how video visitation could be implemented in a more
family-friendly way and highlight two small companies who have
taken some of these steps.
Finally, we make 23 recommendations for federal and state regulators,
legislators, correctional facilities, and the video visitation companies on
how they could ensure that video visitation brings families together and
makes our communities stronger instead of weaker.

i

“ We hold the industry’s fantastic
promises up against the hard
evidence of experience.

SCREENING OUT FAMILY TIME:

The for-profit video visitation industry in prisons and jails

Executive Summary....................................................i
Report
Introduction ................................................................1
Reviewing the promises and
drawbacks of video visitation ......................................1
Video visitation reaches critical mass in 2014 ............4
Why families are unhappy with
the state of the video visitation industry ......................7
What this industry is doing: Major themes .................11
Broken promises from the industry and its boosters .. 15
How are Securus video contracts different
from other companies? .............................................20
The way jails typically implement
video visitation systems violates correctional
& policy best practices ..............................................21
Video visitation can be a step forward ......................24
Recommendations ....................................................27

Sidebars
Video visitation and video phones:
What is the difference? ...............................................4
Attorneys say:
Video visitation is not the same as in-person visits ......7
Families find the promises most misleading of all .....16
JPay video visitation: A review .............................19-20
A victory in Dallas County:
Preserving in-person visitation ...................................32

Table of Exhibits ................................................33

ii

SCREENING OUT FAMILY TIME:

The for-profit video visitation industry in prisons and jails
A Prison Policy Initiative report
Bernadette Rabuy and Peter Wagner
January 2015

Introduction
Every Thursday, Lisa* logs on to her computer and spends $10 to chat
for half an hour via video with her sister who is incarcerated in another
state. Before the Federal Communications Commission capped the cost of
interstate calls from prisons, these video chats were even cheaper than the
telephone. Lisa’s experience is representative of the promise of video
visitation.
Meanwhile, Mary* flies across the country to visit her brother who is
being held in a Texas jail. She drives her rental car to the jail but rather
than visit her brother in-person or through-the-glass, she is only allowed
to speak with him for 20 minutes through a computer screen.
Elsewhere, Bernadette spends hours trying to schedule an offsite video
visit with a person incarcerated in a Washington state prison. After four
calls to JPay and one call to her credit card company, she is finally able to
schedule a visit. Yet, when it is time for the visit, she waits for 30 minutes
to no avail. The incarcerated person did not find out about the visit until
the scheduled time had passed. The visit never happens.
How do video visitations work? While video visitation systems vary,
the process typically works like this:

Figure 1. Most companies, including Securus, Telmate, and Renovo/Global Tel*Link, charge for a set
amount of time and require pre-scheduled appointments.

Reviewing the promises and drawbacks of video
visitation
Increasing the options that incarcerated people and their families have
to stay in touch benefits incarcerated individuals, their families, and
society at large. Family contact is one of the surest ways to reduce the
likelihood that an individual will re-offend after release, the technical term

*Family members’ names have been changed throughout the report.

1

for which is “recidivism.”1 A rigorous study by the Minnesota Department
of Corrections found that even a single visit reduced recidivism by 13%
for new crimes and 25% for technical violations.2 More contact between
incarcerated people and their loved ones — whether in-person, by phone,
by correspondence, or via video visitation — is clearly better for
individuals, better for society, and even better for the facilities. As one
Indiana prison official told a major correctional news service: “When they
(prisoners) have that contact with the outside family they actually behave
better here at the facility.”3
Without a doubt, video visitation has some benefits:
• Most prisons and some jails are located far away from incarcerated
people’s home communities and loved ones.4
• Prisons and jails sometimes have restrictive visitation hours and
policies that can prevent working individuals, school-age children,
the elderly, and people with disabilities from visiting.
• It can be less disruptive for children to visit from a more familiar
setting like home.
• It may be easier for facilities to eliminate the need to move
incarcerated people from their cells to central visitation rooms.
• It is not possible to transmit contraband via computer screen.5
But video visitation also has some serious drawbacks:
• Visiting someone via a computer screen is not the same as visiting
someone in-person. Onsite video visitation is even less intimate and
1 In criminal justice expert Joan Petersilia’s book, When Prisoners Come Home,

Petersilia says, “Every known study that has been able to directly examine the
relationship between a prisoner’s legitimate community ties and recidivism has found
that feelings of being welcome at home and the strength of impersonal ties outside
prison help predict postprison adjustment.” Joan Petersilia, When Prisoners Come
Home (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2006), p 246. Milwaukee County
Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. has said that a functioning video visitation system is
important “because caring attachment matters in human interactions.” Steve
Schultze, “County jail visitations limited to audio only after system breaks down,”
Journal Sentinel, January 23, 2014. Accessed on January 6, 2015 from: http://
www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/county-jail-visitations-limited-to-audio-onlyafter-system-breaks-down-b99190707z1-241732571.html.
2 Minnesota Department of Corrections, The Effects of Prison Visitation on Offender

Recidivism (St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Department of Corrections, November 2011),
p 27. Accessed on December 3, 2014 from: http://www.doc.state.mn.us/pages/files/
large-files/Publications/11-11MNPrisonVisitationStudy.pdf.
3 Quote from Richard Brown, Rockville Correctional Facility’s assistant

superintendent, in Jessica Gresko, “Families visit prison from comfort of their
homes,” CorrectionsOne, July 2, 2009. Accessed on October 22, 2014 from: http://
www.correctionsone.com/products/corrections/articles/1852337-Families-visitprison-from-comfort-of-their-homes/.
4 Chesa Boudin, Trevor Stutz, and Aaron Littman, “Prison Visitation Policies: A

Fifty State Survey” Yale Law & Policy Review Vol 32:149 (March 2014), 149-189.
5 On the other hand, it is also not possible to transmit contraband through the glass

partition typically used in county jails either.
2

“ When they (prisoners) have that
contact with the outside family
they actually behave better here
at the facility.
— Richard Brown, assistant
superintendent, Rockville Correctional
Facility, Indiana.

personal than through-the-glass visits, which families already find
less preferable to contact visits.
• In jails, the implementation of video visitation often means the end
of traditional, through-the-glass visitation in order to drive people to
use paid, remote video visitation.
• Video visitation can be expensive, and the families of incarcerated
people are some of the poorest families in the country.6
• The people most likely to use prison and jail video visitation services
are also the least likely to have access to a computer with a webcam
and the necessary bandwidth.7
• The technology is poorly designed and implemented. It is clear that
video visitation industry leaders have not been listening to their
customers and have not responded to consistent complaints about
camera placement, the way that seating is bolted into the ground,
the placement of video visitation terminals in pods of cells, etc.
• Technological glitches can be even more challenging for lawyers and
other non-family advocates that need to build trust with incarcerated
people in order to assist with personal and legal affairs.
The industry and correctional facilities have largely focused on the
promised benefits of video visitation, but reform advocates have long
expressed their concerns. We found an article by a person incarcerated in
Colorado all the way back in 2008 that nicely summarized both the
promise and fear represented by video visitation:
“If video visits are an addition [to in-person visits] they will be a help
to all and a God-send to many. But, if video visits are a replacement

6 The Bureau of Justice Statistics conducted personal interviews of 521,765 people

incarcerated in state prisons in 1991 and found that 86% of those interviewed had an
annual income less than $25,000 after being free for at least a year. Allen Beck et al.,
Survey of State Prison Inmates, 1991 (Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics,
March 1993), p 3. Accessed on January 5, 2015 from: http://www.bjs.gov/content/
pub/pdf/SOSPI91.PDF. Bruce Western found that about a third of incarcerated
individuals were not working when they were admitted to prison or jail. Bruce
Western, “Chapter 4: Invisible Inequality,” in Punishment and Inequality in America
(New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006), p 85-107. Tom Miriam from Global
Tel*Link explained to Dallas County Commissioners why Securus’s video visitation
usage projections are unreasonably high, saying, “This demographic doesn’t have
high-speed internet and credit cards.” The County of Dallas, “Dallas County
Commissioners Court,” The County of Dallas Website, September 9, 2014. Accessed
on January 6, 2015 from: http://dctx.siretechnologies.com/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?
meetid=177&doctype=AGENDA.
7 According to a recent Census Bureau report, among households with income less

than $25,000, 62% have a computer but only 47% have high-speed internet. Thom
File and Camille Ryan, Computer and Internet Use in the United States: 2013
(Washington, D.C.: United States Census Bureau, November 2014), p 3. Accessed
on November 2014 from: http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/
publications/2014/acs/acs-28.pdf ?
eml=gd&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery.
3

“ But if video visits are a
replacement...their
implementation would be a
painful, unwelcome change
that would be impersonal and
dehumanizing.
— Claire Beazer predicting the harm of
video visitation as a replacement to inperson visits in 2008

for the current visitation, their implementation would be a painful
unwelcome change that would be impersonal and dehumanizing.”8

Video visitation reaches critical mass in 2014
Currently, more than 500 facilities in 43 states and the District of
Columbia are experimenting with video visitation.9 Much of this growth
has occurred in the last two to three years as prison and jail telephone
companies have started to bundle video visitation into phone contracts.
While there is not a detailed history of the industry’s growth, most sources
trace the inception of the industry back to the 1990s.10
Now, in 2014, video visitation is ironically the least prevalent in state
prisons, where it would be the most useful given the remote locations of
such facilities, and the most common in county jails where the potential
benefits are fewer. In contrast, jails typically implement video visitation in
an unnecessarily punitive way. The differences between how prisons and
jails approach video visitation are stark; Figure 2 summarizes our findings.
In the state prison context, the primary challenge to encouraging inperson visitation is distance, as many incarcerated people are imprisoned
more than 100 miles away from their home communities and are

8 Clair Beazer, “Video Visitation,” The Real Cost of Prisons Project, March 25, 2008.

Accessed on October 11, 2014 from: http://realcostofprisons.org/writing/
beazer_video.html.

9 We identified the facilities with video visitation by reviewing the companies’

websites, hundreds of news articles, and interviews with facilities and companies. For
the list, see Exhibit 1.
10 In Professor Patrice A. Fulcher’s analysis of video visitation, Fulcher talks about the

lack of centralized data. Patrice Fulcher, “The Double Edged Sword of Prison Video
Visitation: Claiming to Keep Families Together While Furthering the Aims of the
Prison Industrial Complex” Florida A&M University Law Review Vol 9:1:83 (April
2014), 83-112. A New York Times article states that there were hundreds of jails in at
least 20 states using or planning to adopt video visitation systems at that time.
Adeshina Emmanuel, “In-Person Visits Fade as Jails Set Up Video Units for Inmates
and Families,” The New York Times, August 7, 2012. Accessed on December 1, 2014
from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/07/us/some-criticize-jails-as-they-moveto-video-visits.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. Other excellent pieces on video
visitation have been done by The Sentencing Project and The University of Vermont:
Susan D. Phillips, Ph.D., Video Visits for Children Whose Parents Are Incarcerated: In
Whose Best Interest? (Washington, D.C.: The Sentencing Project, October 2012).
Accessed on October 11, 2014 from: http://sentencingproject.org/doc/
publications/cc_Video_Visitation_White_Paper.pdf. and Patrick Doyle et al., Prison
Video Conferencing (Burlington, VT: The University of Vermont James M. Jeffords
Center’s Vermont Legislative Research Service, May 15, 2011). Accessed on
December 2014 from: https://www.uvm.edu/~vlrs/CriminalJusticeandCorrections/
prison%20video%20conferencing.pdf.
4

VIDEO VISITATION
AND VIDEO PHONES:
WHAT IS THE
DIFFERENCE?

Video phones are an assistive
technology for the deaf, designed for two
deaf people to communicate via sign
language or for one deaf person to
communicate via sign language to an
interpreter who then communicates with
the person on the other end. It can be a
special standalone device, or installed as
software on a computer. Although to lay
people the technology looks similar to
video visitation, it is different and outside
the scope of this report. For more on
video phones in prisons and jails, and why
facilities are required to provide
communications access to deaf people in
their custody, see Talila A. Lewis’s
(Founder & President, Helping Educate to
Advance the Rights of the Deaf) March
25, 2013 comment to the Federal
Communications Commission: http://
apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?
id=7022134808

COUNTY JAILS
Regional
visitation
Visit from
centers
home

Onsite
Prevalence of
video visitation
type?

Cost?

Common

Very rare.

Common

Free, at least Free, at least
for the first
for the first
few visits a
few visits a
week.
week.

STATE PRISONS
Regional
visitation
Visit from
Onsite
centers
home
Never,
with one
Sometimes
Common
exception.

$

n/a

$

$

Does this require
family members to
travel longdistances?

Depends on
the size of
the county.

No

No

n/a

Not usually.

No

Operated by:

Private
company, or
the facility

Facility

Private
company

n/a

State/nonprofit
partnerships

Private
company

Prior to installation
of video visitation,
how are visits
typically
conducted?

In-person,
through a glass barrier.

After installation of
video visitation, is
in-person visitation
typically
abolished?

Yes

In-person,
generally without a glass barrier.

n/a

No

No

Figure 2. How video visitation works by facility type and visitation method. Source: Our review of the companies’ websites,
hundreds of news articles, a quarter of the industry’s contracts with individual facilities, and our interviews with facilities and
companies.

sometimes even imprisoned in a different state.11 Most of the state prisons
that use video visitation currently do so only in small experimental
programs or as a part of a larger contract for electronic payment
processing systems and email. Many of these experimental programs focus
on special populations or special purposes.12 For example, New Mexico

11 Boudin, Stutz, and Littman, 2014, p 179. A report by Grassroots Leadership found

that four states collectively send more than 10,000 prisoners to out-of-state private
prisons. For the report, see: Holly Kirby, Locked Up & Shipped Away: Paying the Price
for Vermont’s Response to Prison Overcrowding (Austin, TX: Grassroots Leadership,
December 2014). Accessed on January 9, 2015 from: http://
grassrootsleadership.org/sites/default/files/reports/
locked_up_shipped_away_vt_web.pdf.
12 State prison programs that are operated on a small scale and are specifically for

incarcerated parents include Florida’s Reading and Family Ties program, New
Mexico’s Therapeutic Family Visitation Program, and New York’s program with the
Osborne Association. According to Boudin, Stutz, and Littman, 2014, p 171, the
following are other states using video visitation in a limited scope: Alaska, Colorado,
Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Ohio.
5

has a special program for 25 incarcerated mothers,13 and a number of
other states use video systems for court and parole hearings.14 Other states
like Virginia and Pennsylvania have regional video visitation centers that
families can use, thereby reducing the distance that families must travel.15
Five states have large video visitation programs that are bundled with
another service. Four states — Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, and Washington
— contract with the company JPay, and another industry player Telmate
runs a video visitation system along with phone services in Oregon. In all
of these cases, prisons use video visitation very differently than jails do.
Given that prisons hold people convicted of more serious crimes, one
might expect that if any facility were going to ban contact visits and
require visitation via onsite video terminals, it would be state prisons.
However, state prisons understand that family contact is crucial for
reducing recidivism, and burdening individuals with extensive travel only
to visit an incarcerated loved one by video screen is particularly
counterproductive. As Illinois Department of Corrections Spokesman
Tom Shaer explained to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the state had no plans
to eliminate in-person visits: “I can’t imagine the scenario in which
someone would travel to a prison and then wish to communicate through
a video screen rather than see a prisoner face-to-face.” 16
In contrast, county jails confine people who are generally not far from
home, and the majority are presumed innocent while they attempt to pay
bail or await trial. The 40% of people in jail who have been convicted17
are generally serving a relatively short sentence for misdemeanor crimes.
Despite the fact that jails should be particularly conducive to in-person
visits, most jails have replaced contact visits with through-the-glass visits.
And when jails implement video visitation, they typically replace throughthe-glass visiting booths with a combination of onsite and remote paid
video visitation.

13 See Exhibit 2: New Mexico Corrections Department Contract with PB&J Family

Services.

14 The states that use video conferencing for hearings include: Michigan, Minnesota,

and New Jersey.

15 We are using the term “regional video visitation center” to describe situations

where the state has made an effort to bring visitation to the visitors. For example, we
consider having special places throughout the state or using a mobile van (Pinellas
County, Florida) to be regional visitation centers, but we would not consider
Maricopa County, Arizona’s decision to make onsite video visitation terminals
available at two of the county’s six jails to be regional visitation.
16 Paul Hampel, “Video visits at St. Clair County Jail get mixed reviews,” St. Louis

Post-Dispatch, February 20, 2014. Accessed on December 22, 2014 from: http://
www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/video-visits-at-st-clair-county-jailget-mixed-reviews/article_b46594b0-9f01-5987-abf0-83152f76c9dd.html.
17 According to Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie, of the 722,000 people in local

jails, almost 300,000 are serving time for minor offenses. See Peter Wagner and Leah
Sakala, Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie (Easthampton, MA: Prison Policy
Initiative, March 12, 2014). Accessed on December 2014 from: http://
www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie.html.
6

Why families are unhappy with the state of the video
visitation industry
Most families — the end-users of video visitation — are deeply
unhappy with the combination of video visitation’s poor quality, the cost
of visitation, and the fact that jails often force the service on them. Some
of the specific problems that families frequently cite are without a doubt
fixable. Others are the inevitable result of the failed market structure: the
companies consider the facilities — not the families paying the bills — as
their customers. The primary complaint is apparent: video visits are not
the same as in-person visits and are much less preferable to contact visits
or through-the-glass visits.
Sheriffs typically defend the transition from in-person, through-theglass visits to video visits as being insignificant 18 because both involve
shatterproof glass and talking on a phone. To the families, however,
replacing the real living person on the other side of the glass with a grainy
computer image is a step too far.

A. Video visits are not equivalent to in-person visits
It is more difficult for families to ensure or evaluate the wellbeing of
their incarcerated loved ones via video than in-person or through-theglass. Families struggle to clearly see the incarcerated person with video
visits and instead face a pixelated or sometimes frozen image of the
incarcerated person. The poor quality of the visits only increases family
members’ anxiety. For example, a mother interviewed by the Chicago
Tribune described her unease at seeing her son’s arm in a sling during a
video visit, and how she would have felt more assured about his health and
safety if she could have seen him properly in a traditional visit.19 The
physical elements that still remained in through-the-glass visits are now
gone. As Kymberlie Quong Charles of advocacy group Grassroots
Leadership told the Austin Chronicle, “Even through Plexiglass, it allows
you to see the color of [an inmate’s skin], or other physical things with
18 As Sheriff Dotson of Lincoln County told The Oregonian, “There’s not much of a

difference [between video and through-the-glass visitation] — shatterproof glass
divides the visitor from the inmate at the jail and they talk by phone.” Maxine
Bernstein, “Video visitation coming soon to Multnomah County jails,” The
Oregonian, October 3, 2013. Accessed on October 27, 2014 from: http://
www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2013/10/
video_visits_coming_soon_to_mu.html. The second-in-command at the Knox
County, Tennessee detention center, Terry Wilshire, has also said that video visitation
is almost the same as in-person, through-the-glass visits: “It's a standing booth, it's
cold, it's got that big glass there —there's no more contact with a child there [than
with a video].” Cari Wade Gervin, “Orange Is the New Green: Is Knox County’s New
Video-Only Visitation Policy for Inmates Really About Safety—or Is it About
Money?,” Metro Pulse, July 2, 2014. Accessed on September 2014 from: http://
www.metropulse.com/news/2014/jul/02/orange-new-green-knox-countys-newvideo-only-visit/.
19 Robert McCoppin, “Video visits at Illinois jails praised as efficient, criticized as

impersonal,” Chicago Tribune, January 12, 2014. Accessed on October 6, 2014 from:
http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-01-12/news/ct-jail-video-visitsmet-20140112_1_inmates-and-visitors-video-visitation-john-howard-association.
7

ATTORNEYS SAY:
VIDEO VISITATION IS
NOT THE SAME AS
IN-PERSON VISITS

Families are not the only ones who are
frustrated with video visitation. New
Orleans lawyer, Elizabeth Cumming, is
forthright: “Video visitation is not an
acceptable substitute for in-person
visitation.”92 In fact, this point of
disagreement between facilities and
attorneys has brought about lawsuits in
Travis County, Texas and Orleans Parish,
Louisiana. New Orleans attorneys are
concerned about the lack of privacy and
the technological glitches that prevent
them from building rapport with their
clients.93 As a result, attorneys are
“avoiding the use of video visitation
facilities”94 and seeking court intervention
to obtain “private and constitutional
attorney-client visitation conditions at the
Orleans Parish Prison.”95
In Travis County, Texas, criminal
defense attorneys have sued Securus, the
sheriff, and other county officials claiming
video visitation has been used to violate
the constitutional rights of Travis County
defendants. The attorneys say that the
sheriff’s department “[does] record
confidential attorney-client
communications” and even discloses
“those recorded conversations to
prosecutors in the Travis County and
District Attorneys’ Offices.”96 Video
visitation was meant to be convenient for
all involved, but these concerns leave
sheriffs and facilities needing to make
separate visitation accommodations for
these attorneys.
92

For Motion No. 2011-10638 in the Civil District
Court for the Parish of Orleans State of Louisiana,
see Exhibit 28, specifically page 52.
93 See

page 5 of the Orleans Parish motion in
Exhibit 28.
94 See

page 52 of the Orleans Parish motion in
Exhibit 28.
95 See

page 1 of the Orleans Parish motion in
Exhibit 28.
96 See

page 4 of the Travis County criminal defense
lawyers’ amended class action complaint in Exhibit
17.

their bodies. It’s an accountability thing, and lets people on the outside get
some read on the physical condition of a loved one.”20

Figure 3. Visual acuity is important for human communication.

Second, companies and facilities set up video visitation without any
regard for privacy. Video visitation is popular among jails because by
placing the video visitation terminals in pods of cells or day rooms, there
is no longer a need to transport incarcerated people to a central visitation
room. Yet, the lack of privacy can completely change the dynamic of a
visit. As an Illinois mother whose son is incarcerated in the St. Clair
County Jail, Illinois explained, “I want to get a good look at him, to tell
him to stand up and turn around so I can see that he’s getting enough to
eat and that he hasn’t been hurt. Instead, I have to see his cellmates
marching around behind him in their underwear.”21 In the D.C. jail,
Ciara Jackson had a scheduled video visit with her partner canceled when
a fight suddenly broke out. Jackson was upset that their “[5-year-old
daughter] daughter could see the melee in the background” and told The
Washington Post, “Before, in the jail, you were closer and had more privacy.
This, I don’t know. This just doesn’t seem right.”22 Federal public defender
Tom Gabel told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his clients are equally
dissatisfied: “They want to actually see the people who come to visit them,
not look at them on a computer screen from a crowded pod…It’s just one
more thing prisoners find impersonal at the jail.”23
Further, video visits can be disorienting because the companies set the
systems up in a manner that is very different from in-person, human
communication. Since the video visitation terminals were designed and set
up with the camera a couple of inches above the monitor, the loved one
on the outside will never be looking into the incarcerated person’s eyes.
Families have repeatedly complained that the lack of eye contact makes
visits feel impersonal.

20 Chase Hoffberger, “Through a Glass, Darkly,” The Austin Chronicle, November 7,

2014. Accessed on November 8, 2014 from: http://www.austinchronicle.com/news/
2014-11-07/through-a-glass-darkly/.
21 Hampel, 2014.
22 Peter Hermann, “Visiting a detainee in the D.C. jail now done by video,” The

Washington Post, July 28, 2012. Accessed on November 10, 2014 from: http://
www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/visiting-a-detainee-in-the-dc-jail-now-doneby-video/2012/07/28/g JQAcf1TGX_story.html.
23 Hampel, 2014.

8

Figure 4. This image is from a video demonstrating that eye contact is
important for human communication. (For the video, see http://
www.prisonpolicy.org/visitation/report.html)

Video visitation can add to the already significant trauma that children
of incarcerated parents face, especially for young children who are
unfamiliar with the video technology. Dee Ann Newell, a developmental
psychologist who has been working with incarcerated children for 30
years, has witnessed traumatic reactions to video visitation from young
children as well as from some of the older ones.24 Cierra Rice, whose
partner is incarcerated in King County Jail, Washington told The Seattle
Times that she does not bring her 18-month-old to video visits at the jail
because he gets fidgety in the video visitation terminal and does not
understand why he cannot hug his father.25
Notably, the San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Bill of
Rights demands greater protections of family-friendly visitation:
“‘Window visits’, in which visitors are separated from prisoners by glass
and converse by telephone, are not appropriate for small children.”26 If
through-the-glass visits fall short for children, video visits are even more
unacceptable.

B. Video visitation is not ready for prime time
Despite the commonly-made comparison, video visitation technology
is not as reliable as widely-used video services such as Skype or FaceTime,
24 Dee Ann Newell told the Prison Policy Initiative that she once had to take a child

to the ER due to a traumatic video visit. For another example, see this video
testimony of a grandmother from the January 21, 2014 Travis County
Commissioners Court at 1:24:30: Travis County, “Travis County Commissioners
Court Voting Session,” Travis County Website, January 21, 2014. Accessed on
December 2014 from: http://traviscountytx.iqm2.com/Citizens/
Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=1387.

25 Jennifer Sullivan, “King County to install video system in jails for virtual inmate

visits,” The Seattle Times, June 17, 2014. Accessed on October 2014 from: http://
seattletimes.com/html/latestnews/2023866693_jailphonesxml.html.

26 San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents, “Right 5,” San Francisco Children

of Incarcerated Parents Website. Accessed on November 2014 from: http://
www.sfcipp.org/right5.html.
9

and if video visitation is going to be the only option that some families
have, it is nowhere near good enough. Families we interviewed who use
onsite and offsite video visitation, including those who are experienced
Skype and FaceTime users, consistently complain of freezes, audio lags,
and pixelated screens in video visitation.27 Referring to Securus’s offsite
video visitation system, Jessica* said that she has had video visits freeze for
a full minute. By the time she was able to tell the incarcerated person that
he froze, the visit would freeze again. In fact, Jessica does not think offsite
video visitation is convenient. She calls it “almost a waste of money.”
Families and friends have also complained about lost minutes, with visits
failing to start on time despite both ends being ready or ending abruptly
due to a technical malfunction. Sara* — a mother whose son is
incarcerated in Maricopa County, Arizona — said that she and her son’s
other visitors have had “continuous issues with connecting on time” and
have lost up to five minutes. When visits are 20 minutes long, “five
minutes is precious.”
Technical problems can be systemic. Clark County, Nevada is
currently upgrading its Renovo video system to address the problem with
the current system where “more than half of the average 15,000 visits a
month were canceled because of tech issues.”28

C. Video visitation puts a price tag on a service that should be
free
Much of the video visitation industry, particularly in county jails, is
designed to drive people from what was traditionally a free service towards
an inferior, paid replacement. Even where onsite video visitation is offered
and free, it is often run in a limited way to further encourage offsite video
visitation. Unfortunately, companies and correctional facilities negotiate
the terms and prices without any input from the people that pay. Tom
Maziarz of St. Clair County, Illinois’s purchasing department exemplified
this disregard when he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “A dollar a minute
strikes me as a fair price. I guess it depends what viewpoint you’re coming
from. The way I look at it, we’ve got a captive audience. If they don’t like
(the rates), I guess they should not have got in trouble to begin with.”
Charging for visitation also means charging the families that are least
able to afford this additional expense. These families are poor. In an
extensive survey of previously incarcerated people, the Bureau of Justice
Statistics found that 86% of respondents had an annual income that was

27 We interviewed a handful of families and friends nationwide to hear about their

firsthand experiences with video visitation. Jessica* has used Securus video visitation
in Travis County, Texas, and Sara* has used Securus video visitation in Maricopa
County, Arizona.
28 Annalise Little, “Home video chats, other upgrades coming to CCDC,” Las Vegas

Review-Journal, October 13, 2014. Accessed on October 13, 2014 from: http://
www.reviewjournal.com/news/las-vegas/home-video-chats-other-upgrades-comingccdc.
10

“ A dollar a minute strikes me as
a fair price...The way I look at
it, we’ve got a captive
audience.
— Tom Maziarz, manager, St. Clair
County, Illinois Purchasing Department

less than $25,000.29 As with the prison and jail telephone market,
charging for visitation is, at best, a regressive tax where the government
charges the most to the taxpayers who can afford it the least. The Houston
Chronicle editorial board condemned the practice of charging families for
visits, declaring, “Making money off the desire of prisoners to be in touch
with family members and loved ones is offensive to basic concepts of
morality.” 30

What this industry is doing: major themes
While there are tremendous differences in the rates, fees, commissions,
and practices in each contract, three significant patterns are common:
1. Most county jails ban in-person visits once they implement video
visitation.
2. Video visitation contracts are almost always bundled with other
services like phones, email, and commissary, and facilities usually do
not pay anything for video visitation.
3. Unlike with phone services, there is little relationship between rates,
fees, and commissions beyond who the company is.
While virtually no state prisons31 ban in-person visitation, we found
that 74% of jails banned in-person visits when they implemented video
visitation. Though abolishing in-person visits is common in the jail video
visitation context, Securus is the only company that explicitly requires this
harmful practice in its contracts. The record is not always clear about
whether the jails or the companies drive this change, but by banning in-

29 For the Bureau of Justice Statistics study based on surveys of people incarcerated in

state prisons, see: Beck et al., 1993, p 3. Additionally, the Census Bureau found that
only 47% of households with income less than $25,000 have high-speed internet. File
and Ryan, 2014, p 3.
30 Editorial Board, “Idea blackout,” Houston Chronicle, September 12, 2014. Accessed

on September 12, 2014 from: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/
editorials/article/Idea-blackout-5752156.php.

31 The one state prison exception that uses video visitation and bans in-person

visitation, Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility in Wisconsin, considers itself to be
very similar to a jail, writing on its website that it “functions in a similar manner to
that of a jail operation.” See: Wisconsin Department of Corrections, “Milwaukee
Secure Detention Facility,” Wisconsin Department of Corrections Website. Accessed
on December 2014 from: http://doc.wi.gov/families-visitors/find-facility/
milwaukee-secure-detention-facility.
11

“ 74% of jails banned in-person
visits when they implemented
video visitation

person visits, it is clear that the jails are abandoning their commitment to
correctional best practices.32
Video visitation is rarely a stand-alone service, and 84% of the video
contracts we gathered were bundled with phones, commissary, or email.
Sometimes it is obvious that the bundling of contracts persuades counties
to add video visitation. For example, in a contract approval form,
Chippewa County, Wisconsin’s jail administrator described how attractive
this makes video visitation: “The installation and start-up of the Video
Visitation is $133,415.00 and Securus is paying all of it.”33 The county
was further incentivized because by adding video, call management
services “went from a discount of 30% to 76.1%.” In Telmate’s contract
with Washington County, Idaho, Telmate says it needs to bundle its
contracts or else it will be unable to provide video visitation free of charge
to the facility.34 In other words, in this county, Telmate apparently
subsidizes the costs of video visitation equipment by charging families
high fees to deposit funds into Telmate commissary accounts.
Since the contracts are negotiated with the understanding that the
facility will not be required to pay anything, the facilities sign them
without carefully looking at the real costs or who (the families) will be
paying for the shiny new services. For example, in Dallas County, Texas,
after a huge public uproar, the County Commissioners Court
unanimously supported preserving traditional through-the-glass visitation
and rejected Securus’s request to ban in-person visitation. But two months
later, the county inexplicably approved a contract with Securus that
included the installation of 50 onsite visitor-side terminals; terminals that
would only be useful if in-person visitation were eliminated in the

32 Responsibility for banning in-person visitation cannot solely be attributed to the

companies, because we note that even the jails that manage their own video visitation
systems (Lee County, FL; Martin County, FL; Cobb County, GA; Wapello County,
IA; Cook County, IL; Lenawee County, MI; Olmsted County, MN; Northwest
Regional Corrections Center, MN; Sherburne County, MN) use video as a
replacement rather than a supplement to existing visitation. In Global Tel*Link’s
reply to the Alabama Public Service Commission’s further order adopting revised
inmate phone rules, it states, “The Commission seeks to review VVS contracts
because it is ‘concerned’ that the contracts may contain provisions limiting face-toface visitation at correctional facilities…These contracts are based upon the expressed
needs of the correctional facilities. Correctional facilities have sole discretion to place
limitations on face-to-face visitation at the facility…” Global Tel*Link seems to be
implying that jails are the ones pushing to end in-person visitation. See Exhibit 3 for
Global Tel*Link’s reply. For more on Securus’s role in banning in-person visits, see
footnote 66.
33 See Exhibit 4 for Chippewa County, Wisconsin’s Securus video visitation contract

approval form. In Washington County, Oregon’s contract with Telmate for phone
services and video visitation, the county even received a bonus of $30,000 over three
years. See Exhibit 5 for the Washington County, Oregon contract.

34 For Telmate’s justification of its commissary account deposit fees, see page 10 of the

Washington County, Idaho contract with Telmate. See Exhibit 6.
12

“ Since the contracts are
negotiated with the
understanding that the facility
will not be required to pay
anything, the facilities sign
them without carefully looking
at the real costs….

county.35 If the county were paying the $212,500 for those onsite visitor
side terminals36 with its own — rather than families’ — funds, the county
commissioners would have surely been less reluctant to question such a
purchase.
In the prison and jail telephone industry, there is a well-documented
correlation between rates, fees, and commissions that surprisingly does not
exist in the video visitation market even though many of the same
companies are involved.37 In the phones market, the facilities demand a
large share of the cost of each call, and these high commissions create an
incentive for the facility to agree to set high call rates. In turn, the
companies respond to the demand for high commissions by quietly
tacking on new and higher fees to each family’s bill.38
In the video visitation industry, this cycle does not appear to exist.
Instead, to the degree that rates, fees, and commissions are related to
anything at all, the details of the contract are most dependent on the
company. We report the typical rates and commissions for some of the
industry leaders in Figure 5.
While Securus’s rates are significantly higher than those of other
companies, Securus does not provide jails with higher commission
percentages. In fact, the lowest commission among the jail contracts can
be found in Maricopa County, Arizona, which receives 10% of Securus’s
total gross revenues from video visitation. Overall, commissions are lower

35 We have seen examples of facilities starting off with video as a supplement to in-

person visits but then banning in-person visits shortly after the video system was in
place. Pinal County, Arizona launched video visitation in April 2013 as a supplement,
and saw substantial use of both video and traditional visitation. But by December
2014, Pinal County had banned traditional visitation. JJ Hensley, “MCSO to allow
video jail visits — for a price,” The Arizona Republic, December 10, 2013. Accessed
on December 17, 2014 from: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/
20131206mcso-to-allow-video-jail-visits-price.html and Bernadette Rabuy interview
with Pinal County Sheriff’s Office on December 17, 2014.
36 For the costs of the Dallas County video visitation system, see page 18 of the

approved Dallas County contract with Securus. See Exhibit 7.

37 As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) notes, in the phones market,

“site commission payments… inflate rates and fees, as ICS providers must increase
rates in order to pay the site commissions.” See: Federal Communications
Commission, Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, WC Docket No. 12-375
(Washington, D.C.: Federal Communications Commission, Released October 22,
2014), at ¶ 3. Accessed on January 8, 2015 from: http://www.fcc.gov/document/fcccontinues-push-rein-high-cost-inmate-calling-0.
38 For more information on the prison and jail phone industry’s fees, see Drew

Kukorowski et al., Please Deposit All of Your Money: Kickbacks, Rates, and Hidden
Fees in the Jail Phone Industry (Easthampton, MA: Prison Policy Initiative, May 8,
2013). Accessed on October 2014 from: http://www.prisonpolicy.org/phones/
pleasedeposit.html. Phone company NCIC also produced an informational video on
fees, which can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3iB0p49oZ8
13

“ To the degree that rates, fees
and commissions are related to
anything at all, the details of
the contract are most
dependent on the company.

HomeWAV
JPay
Securus
TurnKey Corrections
Telmate

Rates found
$0.50 – $0.65/min

Typical rate
$0.50/min

Commissions found
None – 40%

Typical commission
n/a

$0.20 – $0.43/min

$0.33/min

0.75% – 19.3%

10%

$0.50 – $1.50/min

$1/min

None – 40%

20%

$0.35 – $0.70/min
$0.33 – $0.66*/min

$0.35/min
n/a

10% – 37%
None – 50%*

n/a
n/a

Figure 5. The range of rates and commissions found for each company, and where possible, the typical rate and
commission. The HomeWAV commissions, TurnKey commissions, the Telmate rates, and the Telmate commissions in
our sample vary so much that it was difficult to identify a “typical” rate or commission. *The Telmate contract with
Oregon has a $0.66 cents per minute rate and 50% commission and may be an outlier because it is Telmate’s only
state prison contract. It also includes a lot of other bundled services including phones, commissary, MP3 players, song
downloads, etc.

for video visitation than they are for phones.39 Oddly, the rates still varied
among the few jails that do not accept commissions (Figure 6). It seems
that sometimes negotiating to a lower commission may bring down the
rate charged to families while other times it does not.
County
Adams County, MS

Company
HomeWAV

Typical
Rate
company rate
$0.50/min
$0.50/min

Champaign County, IL ICSolutions / VizVox $0.50/min
Dallas County, TX

Securus

$0.50/min

$0.50/min
$1/min

Douglas County, CO

Telmate

$0.33/min

n/a

San Juan County, NM

Securus

$0.65/min

$1/min

Saunders County, NE

Securus

$1/min

$1/min

Figure 6. These are counties that do not accept a commission on video
visitation revenue. See Exhibit 1

The companies also differ in how they charge families. Almost all of
the companies charge families per visit rather than per minute, which
raises questions about whether families receive the full value that they pay
for, especially since it is common for the image to freeze:
Company
HomeWAV

Per minute or per visit?
Per minute

ICSolutions / VizVox

Per visit

JPay

Per visit

Renovo

Per visit

Securus

Per visit

Telmate

Per visit

TurnKey Corrections

Per minute

Figure 7. Some companies charge per minute, others per visit.

As in the phone industry, the size of the hidden fees that add to the
cost of each visit varies considerably. But unlike the phone industry, where
39 The highest commission on video charges we have seen — out of the contracts we

gathered — is in Placer County, California where ICSolutions sends 63.1% back to
the sheriff. In our 2013 report on the phones industry, ICSolutions also provided the
highest commission, 84.1% of phone revenue. For Placer County’s contract with
ICSolutions, see Exhibit 10. For more on phones, see Kukorowski et al., 2013.
14

“[a]ncillary fees are the chief source of consumer abuse and allow
circumvention of rate caps,”40 the fees for video visitation vary from
burdensome to nonexistent. In fact, some of the high-fee companies in the
telephone industry are the very same ones who do not charge any credit
card fees for video visitation:
Company
How to pay for video visit
Fees
HomeWAV Buy minutes on PayPal using
$1
credit/debit card, bank
account, or prepaid gift
card
ICSolutions / VizVox
Fund prepaid collect
$0 fee + taxes to
account online with a credit/ $9.99 Western Union
debit card or through
fee + taxes, See
Western Union or money
Exhibit 11
order
JPay Pay with credit/debit card
$0
when you schedule visit
online or by phone
Renovo Pay with credit/debit card or
$0
prepaid credit/debit card
when you schedule visit
online
Securus Pay with credit/debit card
$0
when you schedule visit
online
Telmate Fund your Friends & Family $2.75 – $13.78 fee,
account (various methods)
See Exhibit 11
TurnKey Corrections Fund your communications $0 – $8.95 fee, See
account (various methods)
Exhibit 11
Figure 8. This table shows how visitors must pay for video visits and the
associated fees, when applicable. Source: Companies’ websites and calls
and emails to customer service.

Broken promises from the industry and its boosters
The video visitation industry sells correctional facilities a fantasy.
Facilities are pitched a futuristic world out of Star Trek where people can
conveniently communicate over long distances as if they were in the same
room while simultaneously helping facilities bring in revenue and
eliminate much of the hassle involved in offering traditional visitation. In
turn, the facilities sell these same benefits to the elected officials who must
approve the contracts. But when hard lessons of experience bring down
those dreams, the industry and the facilities are less forthcoming. This
section reviews the record to date on the promises made by the industry
and its boosters.
Our findings put the industry’s promises into question:
• Increased safety and security? The industry says, without evidence,
that video visitation — and the “investigative capabilities”41 of these
systems — will make facilities safer, primarily by eliminating
40 Federal Communications Commission, 2014, at ¶ 83.
41 See Exhibit 12 for Securus’s response to the Maricopa County, Arizona Request for

Proposals for video visitation.

15

“ The video visitation industry
sells correctional facilities a
fantasy. Facilities are pitched a
futuristic world out of Star
Trek…. But when hard lessons
of experience bring down those
dreams, the industry is less
forthcoming.

contraband. In the one study of this claim, Grassroots Leadership
and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition found that disciplinary
cases for possession of contraband in Travis County, Texas increased
54% after the county completed its transition to video-only
visitation.42 Correctional facilities tell elected officials that video
visitation can also eliminate “fights in the lobby,” 43 but the public
location of the terminals actually increases tensions in the cell pods.
As a person incarcerated in Collier County, Florida described:
“Everybody in the dorm or on the pod can still see who it is that’s
visiting another. This in itself is invasive and potentially
compromising and has led to fights among the inmates here.” 44
• Increased efficiency and cost savings for the facility? The industry
tells the facilities that they can outsource handling families’
complaints, but when the systems do not work, it is the facilities that
are left filling in the gaps of a system they neither designed nor
control.45
• A lucrative source of revenue for the facility? The available data
reveals that video visitation is not a big money maker for facilities
and may not even be profitable for the industry. First, refunds are
common. For the month of August 2014, Charlotte County Jail,
Florida and company Montgomery Technology, Inc. gave 35 refunds
out of 89 total video visits. The facility and Montgomery
Technology, Inc. did not gain revenue; each lost $8.46 Second, the
contracts are often structured in a way that serves the needs of the

42 The Grassroots Leadership and Texas Criminal Justice Coalition study states that

there was an “overall increase of 54.28 percent in contraband cases May 2014 versus
May 2012.” See: Jorge Renaud, Video Visitation: How Private Companies Push for
Visits by Video and Families Pay the Price (Austin, TX: Grassroots Leadership and
Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, October 2014), p 9. Accessed on October 16, 2014
from: http://grassrootsleadership.org/sites/default/files/uploads/Video
%20Visitation%20%28web%29.pdf.
43 Sullivan, 2014.
44 Jessica Lipscomb, “A new way to visit inmates at Collier jails: video conferencing,”

Naples Daily News, December 11, 2014. Accessed on December 11, 2014 from:
http://www.naplesnews.com/news/crime/a-new-way-to-visit-inmates-at-collier-jailsvideo-conferencing_50634238.
45 When Mary* tried to drop in for an unscheduled video visit at a Texas county jail,

she asked jail staff for assistance. Since Securus requires that video visits be scheduled
at least 24 hours in advance, jail staff had to decide if they would make an exception
for Mary who flew in from out of state to see her brother. Another requirement of
Securus video visitation is that visitors take a photo of their identification in order to
set up an account. Laina* used her personal computer’s webcam to take a photo of her
ID, but her request to open an account was denied citing a blurry ID photo. Laina
then had to travel to the jail to have jail staff look at her ID in-person and do a
manual override.
46 See Exhibit 13 for the August 2014 earnings report for Charlotte County Jail,

Florida.

16

FAMILIES FIND THE
PROMISES MOST
MISLEADING OF ALL

It is no wonder that families are
distrustful of video visitation and reluctant
to even try the service: both the
companies and the facilities are often
misleading them. For example, when the
District of Columbia jail decided to ban
in-person visits, there was widespread
resistance.97 The facility did not back
down from the change and instead
claimed that the convenience of video
visitation would benefit families. The
convenience, jail staff said, would allow
them to expand visits to seven days a
week, but two years later, families are still
waiting.98
In Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff
Joe Arpaio cut back visitation hours last
year, just in time for the holidays. The
sheriff’s spokeswoman told the Phoenix
New Times that the change was being
made “while we switch from one vendor to
another vendor to update/improve
MCSO’s video visitation program.”99 The
so-called “improvement” was that Sheriff
Arpaio had signed a contract with Securus
agreeing to get rid of the last of in-person
visits in Maricopa’s jails.
97

Fulcher, 2014, p 104.

98

Editorial Board, “D.C. prisoners deserve better
than flawed video-only visitation policy,” The
Washington Post, August 12, 2013. Accessed on
December 3, 2014 from: http://
www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/dc-prisonersdeserve-better-than-flawed-video-only-visitationpolicy/2013/08/12/68834128-035e-11e3-88d6d5795fab4637_story.html.
99

Matthew Hendley, “Joe Arpaio Cuts Back on
Inmate Visitation, Just in Time for Holidays,”
Phoenix New Times, December 3, 2013. Accessed
on October 22, 2014 from: http://
blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com/valleyfever/2013/12/
joe_arpaio_cuts_back_on_inmate_visitation_christm
as.php.

industry before the needs of the facilities.47 In some cases, facilities
must meet these unreasonably high usage requirements48 set by
companies as a prerequisite to receiving commissions. In other cases,
video visitation companies require that their investments be
recouped before they will pay commissions to the facilities. If this
clause were in effect in Travis County, Texas — one of the few
jurisdictions that have made commission data available — it would
take 17 years before Travis County would receive commissions.49 In
Hopkins County, Texas, Securus anticipated that the county would
generate $455,597 over five years from its 70% commission on
video visits and phone calls. However, in the 2014 fiscal year,
Hopkins County earned a mere 40% of the expected yearly
revenue.50
• Families will readily embrace remote video visitation? Securus
told Dallas County, Texas during the contract negotiation process
that “most [families] will readily embrace the opportunity to visit
from home.”51 Securus did not offer any evidence, and our review of
the record in other counties shows Securus scrambling to stimulate

47 For example, in one Securus contract, the commission is based on the gross revenue

per month. If the gross revenue per month is $5,001-$10,000, the commission is 0%.
If the revenue is $10,001-$15,000, the commission is 20%. If the revenue is $15,001$20,000, the commission is 25%. If the revenue is $20,001+, the commission is 30%.
For the Collier County, Florida contract, see Exhibit 14.

48 Tom Miriam of Global Tel*Link told the Dallas County Commissioners that it was

unreasonable for Securus to propose to pay commissions only if the County achieves
1.5 paid visits per incarcerated person per month when “the national average is 0.5
visit per inmate per month.” See: The County of Dallas, September 9, 2014.

49 In most Securus contracts, the video visitation terminals are valued at $4,000 each,

ignoring the cost of installation and software. Therefore, the 184 terminals installed
in Travis County are valued at $736,000, an immense sum compared to the $43,445
Securus earned from offsite video visitation in the period September 2013-September
2014. Either Securus is losing money on each video visit, or the terminals are
overvalued in the contracts, or Securus is using phone revenue to subsidize the video
business. For the Travis County contract, see Exhibit 15. For the commission data,
see Exhibit 16. Additionally, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that St. Clair
County, Illinois receives a 20% commission on video visits if it reaches 729 paid
visitors a month, but there were only 388 in January 2014. See Hampel, 2014.
50 Amy Silverstein, “Captive Audience: Counties and Private Businesses Cash in on

Video Visits at Jails,” Dallas Observer, November 26, 2014. Accessed on November
28, 2014 from: http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2014/11/
captive_audience_counties_and_private_businesses_cash_in_on_video_visits_at_jai
ls.php?page=all.
51 For the Securus response to Dallas County’s additional best and final offer

questions, see Exhibit 9.
17

demand where it does not exist,52 frequently charging promotional
rates well below the prices in the contracts and for far longer than
the promotional period described in the contracts.53
• Total visitation will go up? Although families dispute the
assumption, sheriffs argue that video visitation is equivalent to inperson visitation, and they are quick to assert that since video
visitation is more efficient, visitation will increase. For example,
Travis County, Texas Jail Administrator Darren Long told the
County Commissioners Court that video visitation has allowed the
jails to provide an additional 11,000 visits.54 In reality, the number
of visits in Travis County has declined. In September 2009, there
were 7,288 in-person visits in Travis County jails.55 In September
2013 — a few months after in-person visits were completely banned
— there were 5,220 visits. Rather than increase, the total number of
visits decreased by 28% after the imposition of video visitation
because families are unhappy with both free, onsite video visits and
the paid, offsite video visits.56
• Most prisons and jails are moving to video visitation? The Travis
County Jail Administrator Darren Long also asserted that video

52 Securus is not the only company facing the reality of low demand for video

visitation services. In Washington County, Oregon — which contracts with Telmate
and uses video visitation as a supplement — the jail logged 86 video visits in
September 2013. See Bernstein, 2013. We calculated — using the U.S. Census figure
for the jail population of 197 — that the jail logged an average of 13 minutes per
incarcerated person for that month.
53 Securus is charging a promotional rate in 67% of the contracts we gathered for our

sample. For instance, in Saunders County, Nebraska’s contract with Securus, a 30minute offsite visit is priced at $30, but for “a limited time,” the promotional rate is
$5 for a 35-minute visit. (See Exhibit 18 for the Saunders County contract.) In the
Securus contract with Travis County, Texas, the contract specifies that all video visits
should be charged at standard rates after the system has been installed for three
months. However, Securus has rarely charged the standard rate in the year and a half
following implementation. (See Exhibits 15 and 16)
54 For the video of Darren Long’s testimony in Travis County Commissioners Court,

see: Travis County, “Travis County Commissioners Court Voting Session,” Travis
County Website, January 21, 2014. Accessed on December 2014 from: http://
traviscountytx.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=1387.Travis County,
2014.

55 September 2009 was before video visitation was used at all for those incarcerated in

general population. Travis County started using video visitation in 2006-2007 for
maximum security and then for general population for those held in Building 12,
which opened in Oct. 2009. Travis County switched to video for everyone in May
2013. See Exhibit 16 for visitation data.

56 We interviewed three individuals who have used video visitation to visit loved ones

incarcerated in Travis County. They are dissatisfied with the audio lags, the lack of eye
contact, etc.
18

visitation “is best practices going across the nation right now”57 and
implied that Travis County would be terribly behind if it did not
adopt video visitation. In reality, only 12% of the nation’s 3,283
local jails have adopted video visitation.58 Administrator Long
showed a slide with a list of 19 states that use video visitation, but, as
discussed earlier, most state prison systems are using video
conferencing and video visitation59 on a very small scale as a
supplement to existing visitation and certainly never as the dominant
form of visitation.60
• Video visitation will reduce long lines? Unlike traditional
visitation, many video systems require families to schedule both
onsite and offsite video visits at least 24 hours in advance. Many
families find coordinating issues like transportation to the jail,
childcare, and employment difficult, so requiring visits to be
scheduled discourages people from attempting drop-in visits. To
their credit, many facilities with policies requiring visits to be
scheduled in advance appear to allow drop-in visits when possible,
but this leads to confusion when there are even longer waits for a
video visit than under the traditional system.61

57 See: Travis County, 2014 for the video of the Commissioners Court meeting. A

deputy at the Roane County, Tennessee jail also seems to believe that video visitation
is a best practice. The deputy said, “If you’ve got a jail that’s been built in the last few
years, it’s got video visitation.” See: Gervin, 2014.
58 According to Wagner and Sakala, 2014, there are 3,283 local jails. From video

visitation companies’ websites, news stories, and interviews of criminal justice
colleagues, we have identified 388 local jails with video visitation.

59 Video conferencing includes telemedicine programs in which doctors meet with

incarcerated patients through a video system and programs in which parole hearings
are done via video. Video visitation allows family members to visit incarcerated loved
ones via video.
60 The 24 states that use video visitation are: Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Florida,

Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New
Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon,
Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Administrator Long misleadingly cites the number 19 from the Boudin, Stutz, and
Littman, 2014 study, even though the study explains that some states use video on a
temporary or limited basis. Out of the 19 mentioned in this study, we omitted Idaho,
which we do not believe has video visitation and added Alabama, Michigan, New
Hampshire, North Dakota, South Carolina, and South Dakota. Rivers Correctional
Institution in North Carolina — which houses sentenced individuals from D.C. —
has a supportive video visitation program provided through a partnership with Hope
House in D.C. One state prison, Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility, did replace inperson visits with video visits, but it compares itself to a county jail.
61 When Mary* showed up for an unscheduled video visit, jail staff told her she would

get the next available visitor-side video terminal, but she ended up waiting over an
hour despite the availability of 30 visitor-side terminals. The delay might have been
because the video terminal that her incarcerated brother has access to could have
been in use by another incarcerated person. Laina* said that when family members
drop in for unscheduled video visits in Travis County, Texas, the wait can be
anywhere from one to three hours.
19

JPAY VIDEO
VISITATION: A
REVIEW

We decided to try JPay, the leading
provider of video visitation in state prisons.
We use Skype and FaceTime regularly
and are familiar with the prison and jail
telephone industry leaders, so we
expected hiccups. However, our JPay
experience left us more disappointed and
frustrated than we expected.
• To schedule a remote video visit, we
had to call JPay customer service four
separate times. During our first call,
the JPay employee had trouble
locating our account saying she is only
able to view accounts that are opened
over the phone, not accounts created
online. We even had to call our credit
card company when JPay let us know
that some credit card companies reject
the way that JPay processes
transactions. Later, we learned that
JPay had actually been the one
rejecting the transactions.
• Visit #1: When we finally had a
scheduled video visit, we waited for 30
minutes to no avail. The incarcerated
person we were attempting to visit did
not see the email from JPay notifying
him of the visit until he was off of work
and able to check a video terminal.
Unfortunately, this was after the
scheduled time had already passed.
Perhaps we should have scheduled the
visit more than 24 hours in advance,
but we figured JPay would have set
that requirement — as other
companies like Securus do — if this
were a frequent problem.
Continued on next page.

• Remote video visitation is convenient? The promise of video

visitation is that it will be easier for families, but these systems are
very hard to use. In our experience doing remote video visits and in
our interviews with family members, the most common complaint
— even from people who claim to be comfortable with computers
— is that these systems are inconvenient.62 We heard of and
experienced repeated problems getting pictures of photo IDs to
companies,63 scheduling visits, processing payments, and with some
companies not supporting Apple computers.64 Today in 2015,
virtually every other internet-based company has made it easy for
consumers to purchase and pay for their products, but the video
visitation industry — perhaps because of its exclusive contracts —
apparently has little desire to win customer loyalty through making
its service easy to use.
The financial incentives in the video visitation market put the
priorities of the companies before the facilities or the families, so it should
come as no surprise the industry is not able to meet all of its attractive
promises. Because video visitation is often framed as an “additional
incentive” in phone or commissary contracts rather than a stand-alone
product, it is unclear how much thought and planning the companies and
facilities put into the actual performance of these systems.65 The true endusers of this service — the families — are the ones who are served last.
Worse still, these “add-ons” create spill-over effects, pushing their bloated
costs onto other parts of the contract.

How are Securus video contracts different from
other companies?
While most jails choose to ban in-person visitation after installing a
video visitation system, only Securus contracts explicitly require this
outcome. The Securus contracts also tend to go further with detailed
micromanagement of policy issues that would normally be decided upon
by elected and appointed correctional officials.
It is common to find the following elements in Securus contracts:

62 For example, to visit at Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County Jail, families must register

on one company’s website (HomeWAV) then schedule the video visit using another
company’s website (Renovo). Milwaukee County Sheriff, “Visiting,” Milwaukee
County Sheriff Website. Accessed on January 6, 2015 from: http://
county.milwaukee.gov/Visiting15657.htm.
63 In addition to Laina*’s story mentioned in footnote 45, Bernadette had trouble

taking a photo of her ID. When Bernadette tried to submit a photo of her ID to
Securus, she tried taking the photo five times before she finally submitted it, but the
photo was still rejected by the Texas jail. Bernadette was fortunate enough to have
access to another, newer laptop. When she tried the laptop, which had a better
webcam, the photo of her ID was accepted.
64 See Exhibit 19 for the companies that only support Windows computers.
65 For Securus’s financial proposal to Shawnee County, Kansas that frames video

visitation as an additional incentive, see Exhibit 20.
20

• Visit #2: The quality was a
disappointment. The person we were
visiting was extremely pixelated. The
audio delays made it difficult to even
have a conversation. We could hear
our voices getting to the incarcerated
person with delays of 10 seconds.
Additionally, six separate times, we
were warned of insufficient bandwidth
on both our side and on the
incarcerated person’s side. Poor quality
must be the standard if JPay is not
utilizing the adequate bandwidth on
the state prison side.
• Visit #3: We scheduled a visit with
another person in a different facility
but that too failed. While both parties
sat at their designated posts at the
agreed upon time, the visit never
happened. The incarcerated person
asked bystanders and learned that the
video terminals in that facility had not
been working for months.
On the positive side, JPay customer
service is pretty helpful by telephone,
although not by email.100 While we ended
up spending three hours on the phone
trying to set up video visits, receiving a
refund for the initial, failed visit was fairly
easy. We have not been as lucky with
other companies in this industry.
100

A request for credit sent via JPay’s website for
the failed visit was immediately acknowledged by an
automatic email, with a human reply promised
“soon.” But after a week, there was still no followup. However, a phone call to customer service
resulted in an immediate credit.

• “For non-professional visitors, Customer will eliminate all face to

face visitation through glass or otherwise at the Facility and will
utilize video visitation for all non-professional on-site visitors.”
• “Customer will allow inmates to conduct remote visits without
quantity limits other than for punishment or individual inmate
misbehavior.” Apparently, Securus does not think that the profit
share is enough of an incentive for facilities to encourage the use of
offsite video visits.
• Additionally, Securus specifies that the county must pay for any free
sessions the county wants to provide. With this clause and clauses
that “reduce the on-site visitation hours over time,”66 Securus is
restricting free, onsite visits and pushing families toward paid,
remote visits.
• Securus specifies how and where the incarcerated population may
move in the facility, with a requirement that the terminals be
available “7 days a week, 80 hours per terminal per week.” 67
Most of the other contracts we reviewed do not require specific
correctional policies or changes. One company TurnKey Corrections has
clauses in its contracts that are almost the opposite of those of Securus’s
such as:
• “Provider wishes to minimize fees charged to inmate’s family and
friends and allow revenue and efficiency to grow thus providing the
County the maximum amount of revenue possible.”
• “Privileges may be revoked and suspended at any time for any reason
for any user.” While communication between incarcerated people
and their families should be encouraged, correctional facilities
should be responsible for setting visitation policies, not private
companies.
• “The communication of changes will be done a minimum of 15 days
in advance of the change. Provider warrants to change prices no
more than 3 times annually.”

The way jails typically implement video visitation
systems violates correctional & policy best practices
With few exceptions, jail video visitation is a step backward for
correctional policy because it eliminates in-person visits that are
66 There is further reason to believe that facilities are allowing Securus to make

decisions about onsite visitation policies. Beyond banning in-person visits, Securus
has tried to stimulate demand for remote video visits by proposing that Dallas
County reduce onsite visitation availability to no more than 20 hours per week. For
Dallas County’s proposed contract, see Exhibit 8. While this clause was taken out of
the approved Dallas contract, the Securus contract with Adams County, Illinois
unfortunately includes this clause. For the Adams County contract, see Exhibit 21. In
Maricopa County, Arizona, the Securus contract states, “inmates will be allowed
three (3) onsite visits per week, at no charge.” However, according to the Maricopa
County Sheriff’s website, this has been cut down to one free onsite visit per week. For
Maricopa County’s contract, see Exhibit 12. Also see footnote 32.
67 This clause can be found in Securus contracts with, for example, Tazewell County,

Illinois and Dallas County, Texas. For the Tazewell County contract, see Exhibit 22.
For Dallas County’s approved contract, see Exhibit 7.
21

unquestionably important to rehabilitation while simultaneously making
money off of families desperate to stay in touch. In fact, banning inperson visits and replacing them with expensive virtual visits runs contrary
to both the letter and the spirit of correctional best practices as defined by
the American Correctional Association (ACA), the nation’s leading
professional organization for correctional officials and the accreditation
agency for U.S. correctional facilities.
In four conferences going back to 2001,68 the ACA has consistently
declared that “visitation is important” and “reaffirmed its promotion of
family-friendly communication policies between offenders and their
families.” 69 According to the ACA, family-friendly communication is
“written correspondence, visitation, and reasonably-priced phone calls.”70
The ACA believes that, in addition to visitation, correctional facilities
should provide incarcerated people other forms of communication. In its
2001 policy on access to telephones, the ACA states that, while “there is
no constitutional right for adult/juvenile offenders to have access to
telephones,” it is “consistent with the requirements of sound correctional
management” that incarcerated people have “access to a range of
reasonably priced telecommunications services.” 71
Yet, instead of being used as a supplemental telecommunications
service, jails are frequently using video visitation to replace in-person
visitation. Jail video visitation systems are further against correctional best
policy because:
• The ACA is explicit that it “supports inmate visitation without added
associated expenses or fees.” In the video visitation industry,
visitation — which has long-been provided for free — now has a
price tag. Most jails provide a minimum number of onsite video
visits for free, but sometimes facilities and companies make it nearly
impossible for families to utilize these free visits. In Washington
County, Idaho, families are given two free visits per week, but these
visits can only be used from 6-8am.72 Other counties are even more
68 The ACA’s policy on telephones was unanimously ratified in 2001 and then

amended in 2006 and 2011, and its resolution on visitation was adopted in 2011 and
reaffirmed in 2012.
69 American Correctional Association Resolution, “Supporting Family-Friendly

Communication and Visitation Policies,” American Correctional Association
Website, Reaffirmed January 24, 2012. Accessed on October 31, 2014 from: http://
www.aca.org/ACA_Prod_IMIS/aca_member/ACA_Member/
Govt_Public_Affairs/PandR_FullText.aspx?PRCode=R0015.
70 American Correctional Association, 2012.
71 American Correctional Association Policy, “Public Correctional Policy on Adult/

Juvenile Offender Access to Telephones,” American Correctional Association
Website, Amended February 1, 2011. Accessed on October 31, 2014 from: http://
www.aca.org/ACA_Prod_IMIS/aca_member/ACA_Member/
Govt_Public_Affairs/PandR_FullText.aspx?PRCode=P0023.
72 For the Washington County visitation policy, see Washington County Jail,

“Inmate Visiting Hours,” Washington County, Idaho Website. Accessed on
November 2014 from: http://law.co.washington.id.us/sheriff/washington-countyjail/.
22

restrictive and in direct violation of the ACA resolution. Lincoln
County, Oregon and Adams County, Mississippi left families with
only one option to visit: paid, offsite video visits.73 Portsmouth
County, Virginia, which has offsite and onsite video visitation, goes
as far as to charge for both.74
• The ACA defines reasonably priced as “rates commensurate with
those charged to the general public for like services.” 75 And, while
sheriffs are usually quick to compare video visitation to services like
Skype and FaceTime, those services are free. Video visitation, on the
other hand, can cost over $1 per minute. In Racine County,
Wisconsin, a 20-minute video visit costs $29.95.76
Similarly, the American Bar Association (ABA), the nation’s largest
association of lawyers, foresaw that facilities would use new technologies
to abolish in-person visitation, so it urged in its 2010 criminal justice
standards: “Correctional officials should develop and promote other forms
of communication between prisoners and their families, including video
visitation, provided that such options are not a replacement for
opportunities for in-person contact.” 77
Notably, state prison officials are already in full compliance with this
ABA recommendation, as the state prison officials who have considered
video visitation understand the harm that would result from
implementing video visitation systems as jails do.78 Illinois Department of
Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “All
73 For more on the Lincoln County ban on in-person visits, see Bernstein, 2013. For

the Adams County, Mississippi contract and for the jail’s visitation policy, see Exhibit
23.
74 Portsmouth County’s HomeWAV brochure says “there is a charge for all visits.” For

the brochure and the Portsmouth County contract, see Exhibit 24.
75 American Correctional Association, 2011.

76 We recognize that companies face costs to provide correctional video visitation

systems. More research needs to be done on how much it really costs companies to
provide video visitation. Securus was the only company to consistently provide a cost
breakdown in its contracts, but it is still unclear how much video visitation terminals
cost. Generally, Securus contracts state that their video visitation terminals cost
$4,000 each. Lemhi County, Idaho’s contract with another company TurnKey (See
Exhibit 25) states that a public video visitation terminal costs $3,500 while TurnKey’s
contract with Jefferson County, Idaho states that a public video visitation terminal
costs $995 each. (See Exhibit 26). According to Vice President of TurnKey, while
TurnKey video visitation terminals normally cost $995, additional terminals cost
$3,900. Lemhi County was given a $400 discount.
77 American Bar Association House of Delegates, Criminal Justice Standards on the

Treatment of Prisoners (American Bar Association, Approved in February 2010), p
175. Accessed on October 2014 from: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/
aba/publishing/criminal_justice_section_newsletter/
treatment_of_prisoners_commentary_website.authcheckdam.pdf.
78 In a letter to Bernadette Rabuy dated October 15, 2014, the Freedom of

Information Officer for the Illinois Department of Corrections states, “At this time,
the Department does not have a contract for video visitation services.” According to a
Chicago Tribune article, the Department previously had apparently imminent plans
to implement video visitation. See McCoppin, 2014.
23

“ Correctional officials should
develop and promote … video
visitation, provided that such
options are not a replacement
for opportunities for in-person
contact.
— American Bar Association, 2010

research shows in-person visits absolutely benefit the mental health of
both parties; video can’t match that.”79
Further, the editorial boards of papers as diverse as Austin AmericanStatesman, The Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, The New York
Times, and The Washington Post have severely criticized jail video visitation
systems80 for weakening family ties and preying on those least able to
afford another expense. A clear and strong national consensus has
developed that jail video visitation systems are a major step in the wrong
direction.

Video visitation can be a step forward
Much of this report has focused on the way that video visitation is
implemented by the largest companies in the industry, arguing that it is a
significant step backwards for families and public safety. But video
visitation done differently could be a major step forward, and some
companies are already taking some of these steps. For example, the data
shows that it is economically beneficial to preserve existing visitation
systems, and there are ways to operate a video visitation system that
actually make visitation more convenient for families.
Two of the industry leaders, Securus and Telmate, claim that in order
to be economically viable, they must ban in-person visitation, but some of
their competitors have found other, more reliable ways to stimulate
demand. Securus and Telmate are utilizing a strategy that is proven by
their competitors to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.
Securus almost always requires facilities to ban in-person visitation and
justified this to Dallas County, Texas saying that the “capital required
upfront is significant and without a migration from current processes to
remote visitation, the cost cannot be recouped nor can the cost of telecom
be supported.”81 Similarly, Telmate’s CEO says that banning in-person

79 For the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, see Hampel, 2014.
80 For the editorials, see: Editorial Board, “Editorial: A price too high for calls from

jail,” The Dallas Morning News, November 10, 2014. Accessed on November 10,
2014 from: http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/editorials/20141110-editorial-aprice-too-high-for-calls-from-jail.ece. Editorial Board, “Idea blackout,” Houston
Chronicle, September 12, 2014. Accessed on September 12, 2014 from: http://
www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/editorials/article/Idea-blackout-5752156.php.
The Editorial Board, “Unfair Phone Charges for Inmates,” The New York Times,
January 6, 2014. Accessed on January 6, 2014 from: http://www.nytimes.com/
2014/01/07/opinion/unfair-phone-charges-for-inmates.html?_r=0. Editorial Board,
“D.C. prisoners deserve better than flawed video-only visitation policy,” The
Washington Post, August 12, 2013. Accessed on December 3, 2014 from: http://
www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/dc-prisoners-deserve-better-than-flawed-videoonly-visitation-policy/2013/08/12/68834128-035e-11e3-88d6d5795fab4637_story.html.
81 For Securus’s justification of the need to change traditional visitation when

implementing video, see pages 3-4 of its response to Dallas County in Exhibit 9.
24

visits is the only way to increase video visitation volume in order to recoup
Telmate’s investment.82
However, TurnKey Corrections has found that when facilities offer
families more and better visitation options, families will use remote video
visitation more. TurnKey found:83
• When traditional, through-the-glass visits are retained, the jail
averages 23 minutes of offsite video visits per month per incarcerated
person.
• When through-the-glass visits are replaced with onsite video visits,
the jail averages 19 minutes of offsite video visits per month per
incarcerated person.
• When offsite video visits are the only visitation option, the jail
averages only 13 minutes of offsite video visits per month per
incarcerated person.84
Turnkey’s experience is that the best way to sell offsite video visitation
is to use other forms of visitation to build the demand. Putting up barriers
to visitation does little besides discourage families from trying the
company’s paid service.85
Two companies, Turnkey and HomeWAV, structure their systems
differently than the market leaders and structure them more like phone
services. Both charge per minute rather than per visit, and neither
company requires families to pre-schedule video visits:

Figure 9. TurnKey charges per minute and allows the visitor to call into the facility without an appointment.

82 This is from Peter Wagner’s conversation with Telmate CEO Richard Torgersrud

on July 10, 2013.

83 This data is from an interview on November 17, 2014 with Patrick McMullan,

Vice President of TurnKey Corrections.

84 According to an article from October 2013, the jail in Lincoln County, Oregon —

which contracts with TurnKey and only offers paid, offsite video visitation — has
averaged 12-24 video visits a day. It is a 161-bed jail so it is averaging a mere 0.07-0.14
video visits per incarcerated person per month. TurnKey charges per minute. See
Bernstein, 2013.
85 Advocacy organization, Grassroots Leadership, did a survey on video visitation in

2014. A counselor responded to the survey and said that he or she refuses to use
video visitation unless the video contract specifically indicates video visitation will
only be used as a supplement to in-person visitation. When we interviewed Laina*
about her experience with Securus video visitation, she said that she “doesn’t care to
give Securus money” but only decided to give video visitation a shot when it was
offered at the promotional price of $5 for a 20-minute visit.
25

Figure 10. HomeWAV charges per minute and does not require appointments. The visitor says when he or
she is available, and then the person on the inside makes an outgoing video call.

HomeWAV told us that the average length of a visit on their system is
5.79 minutes, significantly fewer than the standard visit blocks of 20 or 30
minutes. By charging per minute, families are incentivized to use video
visits for shorter time periods. For example, it is possible for a daughter to
say goodnight to her incarcerated father or for a husband to ask his wife if
she received her commissary money via video visit, without the visit being
financially burdensome.
While some families find being able to schedule a video visit superior
to waiting in a long line for an unscheduled visit, adding the option for
unscheduled visits has other advantages including:
• It would be better than the telephone because it would allow family
members to decide when to communicate, rather than being forced
to sit and wait by the telephone.
• It makes per-minute pricing both possible and efficient for both
families and the companies.
Additionally, some companies have prioritized supporting their
customers and whatever computing devices they have and want to use. For
example, HomeWAV reports that 60% of its visits are done using their
HomeWAV Android or iPhone/iPad application. By contrast, some other
companies do not even support Apple computers.
Company
HomeWAV
ICSolutions / VizVox
JPay
Renovo
Securus
Telmate

Microsoft only? Mobile/tablet application?
No
Yes
Yes
No
No
Yes
Not anymore
Only for scheduling
Yes
No
No
Coming soon

TurnKey Corrections
No
Yes
Figure 11. This table shows which video visitation systems are compatible
with Apple computers and mobile/tablet devices. Source: Companies’
websites. See Exhibit 19

Making video visitation more convenient is the key to increasing
demand, and with higher demand, the companies can lower prices, which
will further stimulate demand.
In the facilities that contract with HomeWAV, which typically charges
$0.50 per minute, the average video visitation usage is 16 minutes per
incarcerated person per month. By contrast, we found that the average
usage of Securus video visitation in Travis County, Texas from September
2013 to September 2014 was 2 minutes per incarcerated person per

26

month.86 Further, our analysis of the volume and pricing data in Securus’s
commission reports for Travis County found clear evidence that pricing
matters:

PRICE MATTERS
$1.20

Video visitation price vs. usage in the Travis County, Texas jails, Sept 2013 - Sept 2014

$1.00

$0.80

Price
per
minute

$0.60

$0.40

$0.20

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

Average minutes used per incarcerated person per month
Source: Analysis of Securus commission reports for “Screening Out Family Time” about the for-profit video
Figure
12. industry
Videoinvisitation
price
vs.at usage
in Travis County, Texas jailsPRISON
visitation
prisons and jails
available
http://www.prisonpolicy.org/visitation/
POLICY INITIATIVE

The lesson is clear: the current approach to jail video visitation from
Securus and other large companies is not effectively stimulating demand.
While companies and facilities could make many small and large changes
to address the lack of demand, the companies should start by giving up on
the failed idea that banning in-person visitation is the only way to
stimulate demand.

Recommendations
The rapid rise of the video visitation industry has received shockingly
little attention, especially given the potential for this technology to serve as
an end-run around existing FCC regulation. Right now, while the service
is still new and evolving, we have a unique opportunity to shape the future
of this industry; lest its worst practices become entrenched as standard
procedure. While this report identifies some clear negative patterns —
namely the frequency by which jails ban in-person visitation after
adopting this technology — the diversity of practices in this market gives
us hope that video visitation could be positive for both facilities and
families.

86 Through the Texas Open Records Act, we requested and received the number of

remote video visits and the video visit commissions in Travis County, Texas from
September 2013 to September 2014. Since we have the contract for video visitation,
we know that the commission provided to Travis County is 23% and were able to
calculate the revenue. We also know that video visits in Travis County are 20-minutes
long so we were able to calculate the total minutes of remote video visitation used per
month and the rate charged per month. We used the average daily population in
2010 provided in the Travis County Justice System Profile to calculate the average
minutes per incarcerated person per month. See Exhibit 15 for the Travis County
contract and Exhibit 16 for the commission and visitation data.
27

The Federal Communications Commission should:
1. After regulating both in-state telephone call rates and the
unreasonable fees charged by the prison and jail telephone
companies, the FCC should regulate the video visitation industry
so that the industry does not shift voice calls to video visits. The
proposed regulations should build on comprehensive phone
regulations to include rate caps for video visitation.
2. Prohibit companies from banning in-person visitation. The FCC
should require companies, as part of their annual certification, to
attest that they do not require any of their contracting facilities to
ban in-person visitation. This requirement would not stop the
sheriffs from taking such a regressive step on their own, but it
would be a powerful deterrent.
3. Prohibit the companies from signing contracts that bundle
regulated and unregulated products together. Requiring that
facilities bid and contract for these services separately would end the
current cross-subsidization. Alternatively, the FCC could strengthen
safeguards when allowing the bundling of communications services
in correctional facilities, to ensure that the facilities are better able
to separately review advanced communications services as part of
the Request for Proposals process. Either approach needs to enable
all stakeholders to understand these services, their value, and the
financial terms of the contracts.
4. Consider developing minimum quality standards of resolution,
refresh rate, lag, and audio sync for paid video visitation. We
note that JPay’s official bandwidth requirements are extremely low,
and that in our test the facility struggled to provide even that
bandwidth. The FCC could collect comments that review the
academic literature on the appropriate thresholds for effective
human video communication and devise appropriate standards.
5. Require family- and consumer-friendly features such as charging
per-minute rather than per visit. As the experiences of TurnKey
and HomeWAV demonstrate, not every conversation needs to take
the same amount of time. It is both fairer and more conducive to
greater communication to charge for actual usage.
State regulators and legislatures should:
1. Immediately catch up and implement regulations like that of the
Alabama Public Service Commission that actively regulate not only
the prison and jail telephone industry but also these companies’
video visitation products.87
2. Statutorily prohibit county jails from signing contracts that ban
in-person visitation. These statutes should recognize that video
visitation is a potentially useful supplement to existing visitation

87 Alabama Public Service Commission, Further Order Adopting Revised Inmate

Phone Service Rules, Docket 15957 (Montgomery, AL: Alabama Public Service
Commission, July 7, 2014). Accessed on December 2014 from: http://
www.psc.state.al.us/telecom/Engineering/documents/
July_7_2014_ICS_Order_TOC.pdf.
28

systems, but never a replacement.88 Further, while facilities
routinely restrict visitation as part of their disciplinary procedures,
such internal rules have no place in a contract with a
telecommunications provider.
Correctional officials and procurement officials should:
1. Explicitly protect in-person visits and treat video only as a
supplemental option. Social science research and correctional best
practices, as put forth by the American Correctional Association
and the American Bar Association, encourage visitation because it is
crucial to preventing recidivism and facilitating successful
rehabilitation. Video could be beneficial as an additional option for
communication, but facilities should ensure that they do not
approve video contracts that will later lead to the banning of inperson visits.
2. Refuse commissions. Commissions drive up the cost to families
which leads directly to lower communication. Particularly when
introducing new services like video visitation, facilities should resist
the penny-wise and pound-foolish temptation provided by
commissions.
3. Scrutinize contracts for expensive bells and whistles that
facilities do not want or need. Insist on removing these items and
instead having the rates lowered or, if they choose to receive a
commission, having that commission increased.
4. When putting in video visitation systems, put some thought in
to where the terminals are located so as to maximize privacy.
Existing visitation systems allow for monitored but otherwise
private conversations, but putting video visitation terminals into
busy pods of cells and day rooms can reduce the benefits of a family
visit.
5. Refuse to sign contracts that give private companies control over
correctional decisions, including visitation schedules, when it is
acceptable to limit an incarcerated person’s visitation privileges, or
the ability of people in correctional custody to move within the
facility.
6. Refuse to sign contracts that bundle multiple services together.
Contracts for one service that contain a discount because of other
contracts are fine, but bundling multiple services together makes it
impossible to determine whether you are getting a good deal.
7. Consider the benefits of providing incarcerated people a
minimum number of free visits per month. This minimal
investment could reap large dividends for families and for reducing
recidivism.
8. Invite bids where the facility purchases equipment from the
companies instead of requiring that all bids be submitted on a no-

88 A potential model is S.B. 231 (Whitmire) in Texas’s 84th legislative session (2015),

which would require Texas jails to provide each incarcerated person with a minimum
of two in-person, through-the-glass visits per week.
29

cost basis.89 Having the company finance the equipment and
installation just increases the costs to families and cuts into any
commission the facility chooses to receive.
9. Experiment with regional video visitation centers for your state
prison system and remote jails. Regional centers serve as a great
supplement to existing visitation systems. The centers operated by
the Virginia Department of Corrections could serve as a possible
model.
10.Insist on contracts where companies list and justify not just the
cost of each video visit, but all fees to be charged to families.
Lowering the fees keeps more money in families’ pockets, making it
easier for them to use the video visitation system more. This will
have positive results both for reducing recidivism and also for any
commission that the facility chooses to receive. For examples of
questions that should be asked of prospective companies and
evidence that such questions can bring about significant decreases
in fees, see Securus’s response to such questions as part of the
Request for Proposals process in Dallas, Texas.90
11.If the facility allows the company to install any terminals for
onsite visitation use by visitors, do not neglect basic issues like
privacy partitions between the terminals and height-adjustable
seats so that children and adults of various heights can see the
screen and be visible on camera.
Companies should:
1. Improve the product so that people will choose to use it even
when they are not being forced to do so. Areas of improvement
include cost, video quality, usability of websites, streamlining the
reservation process, and improving customer support.
2. Experiment with ways to market the products that are more
creative than banning in-person visitation. Encouraging facilities
to maintain traditional visitation — as TurnKey’s experience has
shown — increases demand for offsite visitation products.
3. Take advantage of existing technology to improve eye contact
for video visits. Specifically, reduce the vertical distance between
the camera and the screen and experiment with integrating the
camera behind the screen of onsite terminals. The basic technology
for this already exists. For example, the Prison Policy Initiative
purchased a $50 device that mounts over a webcam that repositions
the on-screen video, allowing us to look directly into the lens while
also seeing the people we are doing remote presentations with.91

89 There is precedent. In Rutherford County, Tennessee’s contract with City Tele

Coin Company, the company is paying the full costs of video visitation up-front, but
the County will be paying the company back for the video visitation system in 48
deductions of phone commissions. At the end of the 48 months, the County will
own the video visitation system. For the contract, see Exhibit 27.
90 For the Securus response to Dallas County, Texas, see Exhibit 9.
91 See the device demonstration of Bodelin Technologies’s See Eye 2 Eye at: https://

www.youtube.com/watch?v=8n7n4n6SYlc

30

4. Support more operating systems and mobile devices. JPay,
HomeWAV, and TurnKey Corrections support mobile devices,
Renovo only added support for Apple computers in late 2014, and
Securus and ICSolutions still do not support Apple computers.
5. Experiment with allowing incoming video visits without an
appointment. Most prisons and jails do not require appointments
for traditional visits and TurnKey and HomeWAV’s video visitation
systems do not require appointments either.

31

A VICTORY IN DALL AS COUNT Y: PRESERVING IN-PERSON
VISITATION
All too often, video visitation quietly replaces inperson visitation before families and the public can
respond and resist.101 Dallas was different. Prompted by
County Judge Clay Jenkins, the people of Dallas stood
up to jail telephone giant Securus who wanted the
county to ban in-person visitation as part of its new
video visitation contract. Securus initially proposed to
ban in-person visitation, replacing it with a combination
of onsite video visitation available for free for “no more
than twenty (20) hours per week” and $10 offsite video
visits.
In September 2014 when County Commissioners
first discussed the Securus proposal, a diverse group of
Dallas County community members expressed their
disapproval in hours of eloquent and unanimous
testimony. The Commissioners later said that the
proposal to ban in-person visits had generated more
attention than anything else in the recent history of the
Commissioners Court. The public effectively convinced
the commissioners that ending in-person visitation
would be detrimental to recidivism and that, as
taxpayers, they had no interest in punishing the county’s
most vulnerable families with high rates to keep in
touch. There were two crucial victories, with the county
pledging to:
• Forego a commission on video visitation.
• Preserve in-person visitation.
The Dallas County example is very important for
anyone hoping to challenge harmful video visitation
contracts. The county was able to stop the contract
before it was too late due to a combination of
important steps. First, Judge Jenkins was alarmed by the
contract and decided to act on it, reaching out to
groups such as Texas CURE, SumOfUs, and the Prison
Policy Initiative to learn more about best practices in
video visitation. The county learned how to address
Securus’s ambiguities, asking about additional fees that
are not included in the phone and video visitation rates
and whether Securus was requiring “any changes to
[their] in-person visitation policies.”
In person and in writing, Texas residents spoke out
about the video visitation trend that had been
developing in Texas jails. In just a matter of hours,
SumOfUs collected 2,053 petitions from Texas residents
urging Dallas County Commissioners to reject the
Securus contract. The editorial boards of The Dallas
Morning News, the Austin American-Statesman, and the
Houston Chronicle unanimously declared that ending
in-person visitation would be extremely shortsighted. In
his remarks, Judge Jenkins emphasized just how rare it
was for the public and the media to speak with just one
loud, unanimous voice on an issue.

32

Ultimately, Dallas County did approve a Securus
contract but with one concerning clause that led Judge
Jenkins and advocates to oppose the final contract for
fear that it was preparing the county to ban in-person
visitation in the near future. The final contract requires
Securus to provide 50 onsite visitor-side terminals,
which in fact would only be needed if the county were
planning to revoke its pledge to preserve traditional
visitation through glass. Judge Jenkins read into the
record a lengthy list of counties that banned in-person
visits when they implemented onsite video visitation.102
He was rightly concerned that it simply did not make
economic sense for Securus to invest in these terminals
unless they were part of a plan to encourage paid
offsite video visitation.103
While advocates are going to need to carefully
monitor the jail to ensure that it upholds the spirit and
letter of the Commissioners Court’s order to preserve
free in-person visitation, this was a big victory with at
least three lessons for other jurisdictions facing video
visitation proposals:
1. The public must be activated, and it must be
involved early.
2. County officials are easily confused by complicated
contracts that bundle together services that the
county does not necessarily want. Some of these
services cut into the county’s potential commissions,
and some even come with clauses that could
commit the county to future expenditures.104
3. Pushing the companies to lower rates and fees
actually works. For example, Securus renegotiated
its contract with Western Union to reduce its charge
for payments from $11.95 to $5.95.105

101

See sidebar, Families find the promises most misleading of all,
on page 16.

102 For our current list of facilities that replace in-person, through-

the-glass visits with onsite video visits, see Exhibit 29.
103 One county employee argued at the November 11, 2014

Dallas County Commissioners Court that the terminals might never
be built for the simple reason that the jail has no space for these
terminals. This defense raises even more questions. Will the county
later construct a building to hold the terminals? Does that make it
even stranger that Securus would offer to provide technology that —
at best — might never be used? One would think that Securus
would prioritize lowering the rates or increasing its profits over
providing the county with white elephants.
104 At the November 11, 2014 meeting, employees of Global

Tel*Link warned the commissioners that the 10 pages of additional
items could end up costing the county millions.
105 See page 3 of the Securus response in Exhibit 9.

TABLE OF EXHIBITS
All exhibits cited in Screening Out Family Time are available at http://www.prisonpolicy.org/visitation/
Exhibit
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29

Title
Facilities with Video Visitation
New Mexico Corrections Department Contract with PB&J Family Services
Global Tel*Link Reply to Alabama Order
Chippewa County, Wisconsin Securus Contract
Washington County, Oregon Telmate Contract
Washington County, Idaho Telmate Contract
Dallas County, Texas Approved Securus Contract
Dallas County, Texas Proposed Securus Contract
Securus Dallas County Additional BAFO Responses
Placer County, California ICSolutions Contract
Fee Breakdown
Maricopa County, Arizona Securus Contract and Proposal
Charlotte County, Florida Earnings August 2014
Collier County, Florida Securus Contract
Travis County, Texas Securus Contract
Travis County, Texas Commission and Visitation Data
Travis County, Texas Lawsuit Amended Complaint
Saunders County, Nebraska Securus Contract
Windows Only Companies
Securus Shawnee County, Kansas Financial Proposal
Adams County, Illinois Securus Contract
Tazewell County, Illinois Securus Contract
Adams County, Mississippi HomeWAV Contract and Visitation Policy
Portsmouth County, Virginia HomeWAV Contract and Brochure
Lemhi County, Idaho TurnKey Contract
Jefferson County, Idaho TurnKey Contract
Rutherford County, Tennessee City Tele Coin Company Contract
New Orleans Motion
Counties with Bans on In-person Visits

33

 

 

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