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California Legislature

Lawmakers try again to sway Gov. Jerry Brown on more jail visits for families

A county jail inmate uses the phone. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
A county jail inmate uses the phone. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

State lawmakers on Wednesday voted in favor of crafting a budget proposal that would require all but eight California county jails to provide spaces for inmates to visit their families in person.

In a 4-0 bipartisan vote, members of an Assembly subcommittee agreed to make the legislative demand in budget negotiations with Gov. Jerry Brown, even after he vetoed similar efforts in a bipartisan bill last year.

Over the last five years, an increasing number of jails and prisons across California and nationwide have moved to offer Skype-like video visits through phone and computer screens. Some jails have used the video systems to replace on-site meetings that have traditionally occurred face to face through a glass window.

Sheriffs say the move reduces costs, cuts back on contraband trafficking and increases public safety. Prison advocates and lawyers counter there is no evidence that attests to those benefits.

Lawmakers first took up the issue this year in a joint February hearing between public safety committees in the Senate and Assembly. 

On Wednesday, the Assembly Subcommittee on Public Safety agreed to create a proposal that would prohibit counties from charging for video visitation and require them to make space for visitations in person. The eight exempted facilities would be required to provide the option within five years of passage of the 2017 budget.

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