Bexar County Commissioners unanimously approved a revised plan for the video visitation center at the County jail on Tuesday. The video visitation is expected to cut down on waiting times for visitors, significantly reduce the need for inmate escorts and possible injuries to officers.
In a presentation to the court last month, the County Manager’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office estimated that the additional personnel needed for video visitation would cost $685,926 more than expected each year. In total, it would cost $760,000 each year for video visitation, an initiative that was originally intended to save the County money.
The County Manager’s Office presented a revised proposal that recommended the funding of one part-time video visitation supervisor for up to 30 hours a week at a cost of $31,318, the transfer of five existing security monitor positions to the video visitation center and reducing their hours to part-time at no more than 30 hours per week. The reduction would allow for a savings of $78,417, and provide $74,145 for operational costs associated with the facility.
“I appreciate the County taking another look …,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Paul Elizondo, who was highly critical of the previous proposal. Currently, families can wait as long as seven hours before they see their loved ones, he said. “There’s mothers, children, and grandmothers standing around on the sidewalk in 100 degree weather. (Video visitation) is a much more humane way of doing it.”
Video visitation will also allow hundreds of inmates who have not been able to receive visits in the past – those located in the infirmary, mental health units or the suicide prevention units – an opportunity to visit with family members. There will still be face-to-face visits available, but it will be up to the Sheriff’s Office to determine when that is needed.
“I’m pleased we are one step closer today to moving forward with this important project,” said Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “Soon, families will be able to connect with their incarcerated loved ones in a more efficient way, without the long wait times, and in in a more family-friendly environment.”
Chief Deputy Manuel Longoria was in court to show his support for the revised proposal, but said the five positions that would shift from full time to part time “has taken us by surprise,” adding that a full time supervisor was absolutely needed to head the new initiative.
Though the County will continue to look for opportunities to save money, Elizondo said that cutting current employees’ hours from full time to part time was “too extreme.”
“This is taking a cleaver approach (to the costs) when it needs surgical cuts,” he said. Instead, Elizondo motioned to hire one video visitation supervisor full time, and keep the five security monitors working full time hours.
Commissioners agreed with Elizondo’s motion to keep hours, and to continue to look for opportunities to save the County funds. “That cost would be $137,000 which is still down (a significant amount) from the previous figure,” said Judge Nelson Wolff. “That’s a lot better than before.”
Top Image: Visitors wait in the lobby at the Bexar County Adult Detention Center. Courtesy image.