Bexar jail to begin video-only visitation in 2015

Visitation will be done by online appointment at separate facility

SAN ANTONIO – Visiting inmates at the Bexar County Jail will be done via computer screens beginning December 2015.

Visitors will make an appointment online, must arrive 10 minutes early and will no longer go to the jail.

Instead, visitors will go to the old Toudouze Market building, which is county-owned, at 800 Buena Vista just a few blocks from the jail.

Waiting an entire day for a 20-minute visit with an inmate is not uncommon under the jail's current visitation system.

Visitors arrive early - often around 6 a.m. - to get a ticket with a number.

Ticket numbers are called around noon on visitation days.

"The wait's pretty long, up to seven hours," said Rosalinda Salazar, recalling the longest she ever waited to visit an inmate.

The desire to get a low-numbered ticketed coupled with security concerns and logistics make for even longer wait times.

"Let's say we had a security concern. There was a fight. We had to shut down operations," said Jail Administrator, Raul Banasco. "That visit might not take place at 1 p.m. because we cannot move inmates while staff are dealing with a security issue. We cannot move inmates floor to floor."

Under the current system, inmates must be moved from their cells or living units to visitation booths where they speak to visitors through glass windows and phone receivers.

Once video visitation begins, rooms such as those will become obsolete and inmates will not be moved throughout the facility, since the video screens they will use will be located in their living units.

"The cost savings on manpower- we have to allocate additional officers to move the inmates throughout the jail, which equates to salary dollars, which equates to taxpayer dollars," Banasco said.

Banasco expects the amount of contraband smuggled into the jail will decrease because visitors will no longer enter the jail.

While there are certain benefits, critics argue visitors should be given a choice between in-person visits and video visits.

"There are studies that show that recidivism drops" when inmates have face-to-face interaction, according to Jorge Renaud with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

Based on a statistics from the Travis County Jail, Renaud believes video-only visits increase violence among inmates.

"There's a psychological comfort in knowing that this person has come down there - that they're allowing me to go in there and see this person and their kids and have them rub their snotty little faces on the glass and put their hands up there and touch me," he said.

Currently, only audio of visitations is recorded.

The new facility will provide both video and audio recording, except during an inmate's visit with legal counsel.

Visitors will not be charged for a video visit.

Banasco says civilian staff members will operate the visitor center and can call scheduled visitors if there is a cancellation, allowing them to change their appointment time.

Banasco expects the facility to be "customer service driven."

The project will cost an estimate $4 million, which will come from the county's budget.


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