Jail video visitation

The Denton County Sheriff’s Office nixed in-person visitation in 2015, saying it would improve security and make jail visits more convenient. Assistant Chief Deputy Barry Caver said that because they feel video visitation has worked out well, they have no intention of going back to in-person visits.

In-person visits at the Denton County Jail won’t be reinstated unless the county decides to build a new facility, a deputy chief says.

The Denton County Sheriff’s Office nixed in-person visitation in 2015, saying it would improve security and make jail visits more convenient. Since then, the county has contracted with two different companies to provide video and phone visitation.

A law protecting in-person visitation in Texas in 2015 grandfathered in about 30 counties that didn’t have to comply on ensuring incarcerated people get a minimum of two 20-minute in-person visits per week.

“We were grandfathered [in] back when this [change] occurred with the jail commission,” Assistant Chief Deputy Barry Caver said. “I’m told in any event we build a new jail or new sections, we’d have to provide in-person visitation in that particular section. But in 2014, when the newest part was built, which was the tower, and because they knew they were going to the video system, they didn’t build a place in the tower to accommodate [in-person visits].”

The 2015 law included a provision exempting counties that had already invested in video-only visitation technology if they had that technology before Sept. 1, 2015.

Caver said it’s a security problem anytime they bring someone in from the outside into the jail, a secure facility. The county’s previous inmate video communication servicer, Securus, required in its first contract that the Denton County Jail prohibit in-person visits. The company later removed that stipulation, but the Sheriff’s Office still prohibits visiting in person except for special circumstances.

Although they’re not getting that in-person visitation, Caver said inmates can get more visits through video than they did in person.

“Inmates were only allowed two visits per day, and there [was] a long line at whatever time they started visitation hours,” Caver said. “There’s no limitation now with HomeWAV and no scheduling. Visiting can be anytime you want for as long as you want as long, as you have money on the books.”

Each video call is actually limited to 20 minutes, but Caver said if inmates or visitors have the money, they can continue calling for additional 20-minute sessions. It costs 10 cents per minute, so a 20-minute call costs $2. He said the cost of calls is one of the main things they considered when they looked to switch from Securus to HomeWAV in 2018.

People can also stop by the Denton County Jail to use the video platform on site, but those hours are limited from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays, although a sign outside says hours are subject to change.

Caver said county contracts typically last three years, but they can go as long as five years if departments take on the two-year option to renew.

The only people allowed to visit in person include attorneys, a parole board or probation officers, counselors, or religious volunteers who are allowed by the Sheriff’s Office to go in and do church services a few times a week.

“If someone is found incompetent to stand trial, the court could send in a licensed psychiatrist to do an evaluation,” Caver said. “Of course, other police officers continuing investigation, gathering new information, serving warrants [can come, too].”

Caver said that because they feel video visitation has worked out well, they have no intention of going back to in-person visits.

“At this point in time, we have no reason not to continue the contract,” he said. “Unless we end up building a new facility and go by the [state] jail commission, but we have no intention of ever going back if it’s up to us,” he said.

ZAIRA PEREZ can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @zairalperez.

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