Travis County jails Wednesday became the first in the state to make video-chatting technology available to inmates.
Some 2,000 inmates in the county lockups pay $20 for a 20-minute call that could be scheduled up to once a day, according to the Austin American-Statesman (http://bit.ly/11XryWj ).
Securus Technologies Inc. will run the system, collect most of the fee and pay the county $4.60 per call. Using the system, inmates will be able to chat with family and friends at home.
Travis County commissioners approved a contract with the Dallas-based corrections communications firm last fall. Securus also runs the inmate phone and email systems at the county jails.
It's uncertain how many inmates, or their relatives or friends, will use the $1-a-minute service. It's also available, for free, for attorneys to use for private visits with their inmate clients.
Sheriff Maj. Darren Long, administrator at the Travis County Correctional Complex where most county inmates are held, said the conversations might trim crowds at the normally congested visitation plaza used for in-person visits.
He also touted the video hookups as safer for jail officers because inmates won't have to be moved to a separate building.
"This new technology provides another option (for visits) and, at the same time, it keeps inmates inside their units and prevents the spread of contraband," Long said. "We're not catering to the inmates."
A few county jails in a handful of states already use video call technology.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which operates the more than 100 state prisons, has an inmate phone system but does not have a similar video program.