The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) announced two years ago that it would be taking a step to reduce long distance phone call rates to prisons. Instead of the highly costly $17 for every 15 minute phone call, it lowered down to only $4. This has been the industry’s response to the decade-long petition to cut the cost of jail phone calls.

It is therefore not surprising that the jail phone service companies such as Securus Technologies, Inc., have found a new way of generating profit: video visits. Aiming to completely replace and eradicate face-to-face visitations in county jails, about 25 county prison facilities have already implemented this new visitation system. It works in the same ways as the online voice/text chatting system Skype. But unlike its practically free counterpart, soaring fees are associated with the prison video visit system. Excluding “fees & taxes”, the cost of using the video visitation system can reach up to $1 every minute, which of course equates to $15 for every 15-minute video chat.

Thanks to Rep. Eric Johnson district in Dallas County House Bill 549 was devised to give families and detainees the freedom to choose between in-person and in-video visitations. He thinks that the senate would most likely pass the bill too. Since the new video visits system has taken effect, 14 counties have removed in-person visitations in their jurisdiction. This certainly was received pretty badly by the human rights groups. They highly approved of Johnson’s bill. It won’t completely eliminate the families’ right for a face-to-face visit, but it will give them options on how to see their locked up family member. After all, families are not criminals that deserve a punishment. Even their detained family member must not be stripped of the only chance to meet their loved one eye to eye.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers are more concerned of the costs that are associated with in-person visits on the part of the counties. There are existing jail facilities that are no longer made to be suitable for in-person visits and altering this could mean a lot of money. One more thing, jails implementing video visitations are receiving commissions from prison telephone companies. Adopting video visits also mean less staff, which means eliminating the expense of paying visitation staff.

Apparently, not everyone is sharing the same opinion when it comes to completely eliminating in-person visits. At the end of the day, what really counts is the need of the inmates and their families. According to the prison programs and project coordinator Mary King of the Bastrop County, jails are just like any other business. It all boils down to money and making a profit.

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