After Preserving In-Person Visits, Clay Jenkins Takes Aim at County Jail Phone Commissions

Two weeks ago, County Judge Clay Jenkins led a successful effort to change a contract that would have ended in-person visits with jail inmates while the county collected a share of the money a private company made from charging for the video visitation that was to replace it.

See also: Dallas County Will Not Ban In-Person Visits for Inmates After All

The county will still offer video visits in addition to in-person, but the county won't collect a surcharge from inmates or their visitors from video visits. Yet Jenkins still is not happy. He wants to the restart the process for finding a company to provide jail communications and eliminate surcharges for phone calls too. Dallas County would make $3 million from the surcharges over the life a proposed contract with Securus Technologies, which had the original winning bid.

"I'm not saying calls should be free," he said at Tuesday's meeting of the Dallas County Commissioners Court, "but families should be charged what they actually cost."

The county should not be in the business of making money from the families of people who are in jail, says Jenkins, something that Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins echoed.

"We should not be looking at criminal justice system for profit," Watkins said. Doing so "goes against the Constitution."

Watkins called out Commissioner Mike Cantrell and the rest of the Republican Party for trying to "make a profit off the backs of the most vulnerable."

Securus -- represented at the meeting by Josh Conklin, its sales vice president -- said that isn't what it's trying to do.

"We're not making money hand over fist," Conklin said, emphasizing that Securus only made a 7 percent profit last year. "It's important to balance communication and security."

The court erred in focusing on the elimination of in-person visits, he said, because video visitation increases overall visits because of their convenience.

Jenkins isn't worried about how much profit Securus or the county makes, he doesn't think either one should make any at all.

"It's not about the amount, it's about whether it's good public policy or even moral to do it in the first place," he said.

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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young