Clay Jenkins and Inmate Groups Push Dallas County to Stop Profiting from Jail Phone Calls

Andreas Praefcke
Dallas County Jail
They successfully fought contract provisions that would have banned in-person visits at the Dallas County jail while the county made money from new video visits. Now exonerated inmates, prison rights advocates and County Judge Clay Jenkins aim to make the county among the first in the nation to stop profiting off phone calls between jail inmates and their families.

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

About $3 million in the county's recently approved budget stands to come from surcharges applied to phone calls made to and from the jail, but Jenkins wants to change course and find the money elsewhere.

"What you've got is an irreconcilable conflict between our desire to make money off these poor families so we can balance our budget and our duty to lower crime and treat people fairly," Jenkins says.

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UPDATE: Ebola Has Landed in Dallas

Centers for Disease Control
Transmission electron micrograph of the Ebola virus
UPDATE, 3:44 p.m.: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that a patient at Dallas' Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital is the first case of Ebola confirmed in the United States.

UPDATE, 5:13 p.m.: At a news conference in Atlanta, CDC Director Tom Frieden said federal, local and state health officials will contain any threat that Ebola will spread further locally. "I have no doubt we'll stop this in it's tracks in the U.S.," he said. Doctors' first concern is treating the patient, who traveled from Liberia September 19-20, but didn't start developing symptoms until the 24th.

Ebola patients are not infectious until they show symptoms, and Frieden downplayed any worries that the patient might have infected anyone on board his flight to the United States, where he was visiting family members.

Public health care workers with the CDC and in Texas have already begun the process of identifying anyone who might have come in contact with the man, who is in intensive care. Friedan said the number of potential contacts during the period the man became infectious is likely to be small -- a handful of family members and one to three others. Those who came in contact with the patient after he likely became infectious will be monitored for 21 days.

Patient privacy laws prevent authorities releasing the man's name or any information that might identify him.

ORIGINAL POST: Dallas County Health and Human Services gave an update Tuesday morning on the status of a patient potentially infected with Ebola currently being cared for in isolation at Dallas' Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital and the county's' preparation in the event an Ebola case is confirmed. No details have been given about the patient, other than that he or she is being kept in "strict isolation" and was admitted based on symptoms and "travel history."

"This is not Africa," DCHHS Director Zach Thompson said. "We have a great public health infrastructure to deal with this type of disease."

Christopher Perkins, the medical director for county health services, made it clear the risk for outbreak is low because Ebola cannot be spread through the air. Ebola can only be spread through contact with blood or bodily fluids.

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How a Mall Fight Led to Courtroom Drama, a Prosecutor Quitting and an Alleged Cover-Up

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Prosecutor Dodds quit and accused District Attorney Craig Watkins of playing politics.
It started out as a case that wasn't very dramatic or high-profile. Latoya Scott, a 26-year-old woman, was arrested by the Irving Police Department for an alleged fight at a mall. Prosecutors said Scott hit and scratched a woman she was dating. She was charged with family violence assault, a felony a Class A misdemeanor.

But now that assault case has turned into the minor backdrop for another fight, a weird feud between the county attorneys on the case and the judge overseeing it. Rebecca Dodds, the former chief of the misdemeanor division in the Dallas County District Attorney's Office and the main prosecutor on Scott's case, insisted that Scott pleaded guilty to the assault charge back in April. But Judge Elizabeth Frizell said that wasn't true and tried to hold a jury trial for Scott on September 2.

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

Andreas Praefcke
Dallas County Jail
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.

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

Andreas Praefcke
Still open for visits.

Dallas County commissioners are asking for new bids on a controversial contract for the management of visitation and phone services to jail inmates, after County Judge Clay Jenkins and inmate advocates objected to a proposal that would have ended face-to-face visits while letting the county profit off families visiting their jailed loved one via video.

The original version of the contract with Securus, a local technology company, would have obligated the county to cut off in-person visits to promote remote video visits, from which both Securus and the county would reap payments.

Jenkins led the fight against the contract's approval, telling supporters in an email that "video and phone companies hook elected leaders to the sugar of 'commissions' the contracted company share with local government while socking the cost to the loved ones of the incarcerated with a high priced scheme."

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Dallas County Set to Stop Most Face-to-Face Jail Visits, Charge Families for Video

Andreas Praefcke
About to become even more impersonal?
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and prisoner rights advocates are pushing back against a contract that would eliminate face-to-face meetings between inmates in the county's jails and their visitors.

County commissioners are set to vote Tuesday on a contract with Securus Technologies, a private company that provides video technology to jails. The contract, which Commissioners Mike Cantrell and John Wiley Price have endorsed, would hand management of jail telephones to the company too.

Family members would face paying for the privilege of video-conferencing with jailed loved ones under the contract, with the county taking a percentage of the money. Jenkins is OK with video visitation and fees to cover the costs, but doesn't think the county should make a profit off the system. He wants to reject the contract and seek new bids.

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Commissioner Mike Cantrell Continues Lonely Crusade Against Craig Watkins

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Sam Merten
District Attorney Craig Watkins
Mike Cantrell, it seems, got what he wanted again. He's never going to succeed in getting the County Commissioners Court to appoint an outside attorney to investigate District Attorney Craig Watkins' use of forfeiture funds in an out-of-court settlement stemming from a February 2013 Dallas North Tollway accident for which the DA was at fault, just like he was never going to get John Wiley Price suspended from the court for the duration of his federal trial, now scheduled to begin in January 2016.

Cantrell didn't walk away from Tuesday's County Commissioners meeting empty-handed, though. He had his say, forcefully and on the record, about a Democratic elected official.

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John Wiley Price Will Stay on the Dallas County Commissioner's Court While He Awaits Trial

Stephen Young
Indicted? Yes. Still stylish? Yes.
John Wiley Price is not going to be suspended or removed from the Dallas County Commissioner's Court until at least the end of his corruption trial, which is slated to begin in January 2016.

Mike Cantrell, the county's lone Republican commissioner, presented a resolution that would have suspended Price, with pay, until his trial was over. County Judge Clay Jenkins would then have appointed a replacement commissioner for the duration of Price's suspension.

Cantrell insisted that the court shield itself from the inevitable "impact on the county's integrity and public image" that not suspending Price would cause.

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Dallas County Commissioner Mike Cantrell to Seek Investigation of Craig Watkins' Accident

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Sam Merten
State Representative Jason Villalba hasn't got an investigation of Craig Watkins (above) rolling yet. Now Dallas County Commissioner Mike Cantrell is going to take a shot.

Friday, we told you about County Commissioner Mike Cantrell's resolution calling for the suspension of John Wiley Price from the commissioner's court for the duration of his bribery trial.

See also: Mike Cantrell Is Going to Call for John Wiley Price's Suspension on Tuesday

Price is not the only Democratic Party big fish Cantrell is going to try to reel in at the Tuesday's meeting. The court's only Republican commissioner also plans to call for an attorney to be retained to investigate and file a formal complaint with the State Bar of Texas regarding District Attorney Craig Watkins' February 2013 car wreck and the resulting settlement. Additionally, Cantrell wants the court to order an audit of the District Attorney's Office's use of forfeiture funds by the state auditor.

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Mike Cantrell Is Going to Call for John Wiley Price's Suspension on Tuesday

Soon to be taking a little break from the Commissioners Court, if Mike Cantrell's wish comes true.

Mike Cantrell, the lone Republican Dallas County commissioner, has drafted as resolution calling on District Attorney Craig Watkins to go to court to try to suspend fellow Commissioner John Wiley Price with pay until Price's federal bribery case is completed. Cantrell also wants whichever district judge who rules on Prices removal -- they're all Democrats -- to appoint a temporary replacement for Price during his suspension.

Maybe he should have asked for a pony too.

The resolution isn't likely to pass, but it's cheeky. The Dallas Morning News is writing about it, we're writing about, so Cantrell is getting something.

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