AUSTIN, Texas – A new law passed by the Texas State Legislature last session goes into effect this week, assuring county jail inmates of at least two 20-minute in-person visits per week.
The legislation was introduced in response to a growing trend of replacing face-to-face visitation with video technology.
Kymberlie Quong Charles, director of criminal justice programs with Grassroots Leadership, says the value of traditional visitation extends beyond prison walls.
“Staying connected to community, staying connected to family, leads to much more stability and opportunity for people who are leaving a period of incarceration,” she says. “This ultimately leads to lower recidivism rates.”
According to Quong Charles, a grandfather clause enables some 30 Texas counties to not comply with the new law. She says counties that have made significant investments replacing physical sites with streaming video, for example, can keep existing visitation policies intact.
Criminal justice groups say they’ll continue to push for restoring in-person visitation as an option in all of the state’s correctional facilities. Quong-Charles says families of inmates maintain there is no way to replace looking at someone face to face, even through plexiglass.
“There’s a connection that can be made, but the video monitor and technology kind of creates a disembodied experience,” she says. “There’s not a sense that they’re really there with you.”
Quong Charles adds that visitation policies are gaining traction in Texas politics. She cites the 2016 sheriff’s race in Travis County, where candidates have announced they would bring back in-person visitation if elected.