Commissioners renew deal with tech company despite negative claims

The+Securus+visitation+system+will+charge+inmates++%245.95+for+a+20-minute+session.+The+initiative+was+renewed+by+Hays+County+Commissioners+Count+Jan.+15+with+a+4-1+vote.+
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Commissioners renew deal with tech company despite negative claims

The Securus visitation system will charge inmates  $5.95 for a 20-minute session. The initiative was renewed by Hays County Commissioners Count Jan. 15 with a 4-1 vote.

The Securus visitation system will charge inmates $5.95 for a 20-minute session. The initiative was renewed by Hays County Commissioners Count Jan. 15 with a 4-1 vote.

Courtesy of Hays County Jail

The Securus visitation system will charge inmates $5.95 for a 20-minute session. The initiative was renewed by Hays County Commissioners Count Jan. 15 with a 4-1 vote.

Courtesy of Hays County Jail

Courtesy of Hays County Jail

The Securus visitation system will charge inmates $5.95 for a 20-minute session. The initiative was renewed by Hays County Commissioners Count Jan. 15 with a 4-1 vote.

Sandra Sadek, News Reporter

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Editor’s note: The following article was last updated Jan. 17 2020 in order to reflect accurate information related to Hays county’s use of video-only visitation systems. 

The Hays County Commissioners Court voted to renew its $250,000 deal with tech company Securus, to broaden the video visitation system currently in place in the county jail to the jail’s newest expansion, despite concerns over the company’s negative track record of overcharging its clients for low-quality products.

The quarter-million-dollar proposal was originally discussed at the Dec. 17, 2019 commissioners court meeting. It includes inmate telephone communication systems, a video visitation system, the deployment of tablets to aid in the video system and law library services. The agenda item was eventually pulled after Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra noticed no information about the need for the proposal was received from the Treasurer’s or Auditor’s Office. The vote was eventually held Jan. 14 and passed 4-1, with Becerra being the sole opposition.

Founded in 1986 and headquartered in Dallas, Texas, Securus offers communications services for inmates and their families through video visitations and other call options. It currently serves more than 3,400 public safety, law enforcement and corrections agencies as well as over 1.2 million inmates across North America, according to its website.

The tech company already serves two facilities in Hays County—the Hays County Juvenile Facility and the Hays County Law Enforcement Center.

The proposal would add the services currently used in the juvenile facility and the law enforcement center to the jail expansion, expected to be completed in 2020.

Two-year Captain of the Corrections Bureau Julissa Villalpando said a contract with Securus was first signed in 2007 for phone and video visitation services. She said the relationship between both entities has been great over the years.

“I have not had not one complaint from the inmates or the families regarding the service at all,” Villalpando said. “Sometimes you’ll have a hick up if the system goes down, we might have an issue here and systems go down and then everything gets taken care of. The visit will get rescheduled if needed, but I haven’t had any concerns or complaints from any family members over my term as captain.”

The current contract does not cost the county or the jail anything, according to Villalpando, because the company takes its piece out of its commission. It is set to expire in June 2020. The new contract would expand the relationship for three and a half years.

The proposal would also include free services, courtesy of Securus, such as a law library, which the county currently spends $12,000-$15,000 a year, and a phone system allowing the hearing impaired to make calls within their own cell.

Non-profit and activist organizations, such as Mano Amiga, Grassroot Leadership and the American Civil Liberties Union, have brought up concerns with the technology company, accusing it of charging high prices for low-quality services as well as violating constitutional rights.

Mano Amiga Policy Director Eric Martinez said Securus has been engaging in predatory pricing practices, disproportionately affecting people of color.

“(The Court’s) just trying to get ahead of (the new proposal) but is this something that they really need or is it bells and whistles that they basically want rather than actually need,” Martinez said. “So the fact that they were trying to push through something without even really crossing their T’s, dotting their I’s and really checking to see whether or not this is a responsible decision for the county, for the people who are incarcerated or for the county taxpayers, it’s something that is cause for concern.”

According to Villalpando’s presentation to the Commissioners’ Court, a 15-minute phone call costs $10.41, with a $5.01 rate to make the connection and then $0.36 for each minute. However, the new deal with Securus will bring a 60% reduction in costs for phone calls. The cost for each additional minute will drop to $0.32 per minute, lowering the total cost for a 15-minute to $4.80.

Video visitation rates will remain the same, at $5.95 for a 20-minute session.

Reports from the ACLU shed light on even more accusations against the technology company. According to the ACLU, Securus has violated attorney-client privileges by recording those phone calls, as well as surveilling the phones of millions across the country.

“We want pro-social factors, we don’t want to ostracize people behind bars from the community just because they are unable to afford something,” Martinez said.

The Hays County Commissioners hold court every Tuesday on the third floor of the Hays County Courthouse, beginning at 9 a.m.; The University Star made several attempts to reach out to Securus Technologies for an interview on Jan. 3 and Jan. 6. After an initial email response, the company did not reply to requests for an interview. 

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