Dallas County Jail Telephones Cost Extra If You Pay with a Credit Card. Is That Legal?

Amy Silverstein
A woman using Securus' on-site video visitation in the Hopkins County Jail, where in-person visits have been eliminated.
Most people don't realize that Texas has had a pretty cool law on the books since 1985 that bars merchants from charging customers extra for paying by credit card. The famously annoying credit card surcharge feels like it's everywhere, and Texas is just one of a handful of states where the credit card fee remains illegal. So how exactly is the company that operates the Dallas County Jail's telephones getting away with charging customers $4.95 extra if they pay by credit or debit card?

The phones in the Lew Sterrett Jail are operated by a private jail telecommunications company called Securus that makes its money by offering inmate telephone service on a per-minute or per-call rate, resulting in a high bill that the families of inmates are usually stuck funding.

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Captive Audience: Counties and Private Businesses Cash in on Video Visits at Jails

Justin Renteria
Kristina Leisey's former fiance sits in jail in Hopkins County on a drug-possession charge, his link to the world outside a telephone and frequent calls to her. "He's trying to call every day, sometimes two or three times a day," Leisey says. "He doesn't understand how much it adds up after awhile."

The jail telephones are operated by Securus, a Dallas-based corporation that is a major player on the tech side of the for-profit prison industry. The company is popular with county and state governments for its ability to raise money through jail phone calls. It's not popular with the people who actually take the calls, the families and friends of inmates, who find their bank accounts taking hits from a system that is expensive and confusing to use.

To receive the calls, Leisey must deposit money into a prepaid account through Securus. Calls last 15 minutes each, at the flat rate of $4.95. Yet the calls often get dropped before the 15 minutes are up, Leisey says, and $4.95 is deducted from her account regardless. She has tried to call Securus to tell them about the problem, but the telecommunications giant never seems to answer its own phones. "I can never get through to them, ever," she says. The last time she called, she put her cell on speaker as she did her laundry. After 23 minutes, she gave up.

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Desoto Is Having Trouble Firing a Cop Who Helped Silence His Son's Rape Accuser

Dave Conner
The Desoto Police Department's first attempt to run off Sergeant James Henrise came around 1996. Henrise and a fellow cop had come forward with evidence they claimed showed that Chief John Horvath had improperly meddled in a seven-year-old murder investigation and used public funds to finance a family vacation to Europe.

The accusations were never proven, and Henrise was briefly suspended. When he returned, he claimed in a federal lawsuit that was ultimately thrown out, he was relegated to menial duties including handicapped parking enforcement, subjected to internal affairs investigations and otherwise punished and harassed as he continued to press the accusations.

Fast-forward 18 years to early 2014. Henrise is still on the force, having outlasted both Horvath and his successor, but his run-ins with management weren't over. On the contrary, newly minted Desoto Police Chief Joseph Costa would soon do what his predecessors never would: He gave Henrise an "indefinite suspension," the functional equivalent in the civil service system to termination.

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Dallas County Officials Say Video Won't End Regular Jail Visits. Can We Believe Them?

Thumbnail image for dallascountyjailwikicommons.jpg
Andreas Praefcke
In October 2012, Travis County officials promised that bringing video visitation to the local jails wouldn't affect anything else about jail visits.

"We're not changing anything else from what we're doing," Travis County Major Darren Long told the county commissioners before they voted to approve a contract with Securus, the Dallas-based company offering the video visitation. "You can still come and do your free visits the traditional way, but that will provide an opportunity for those that don't feel like driving long distances."

In May 2013 Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton eliminated all in-person visits at his jails.

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Texas Won't Let Murderabilia Dealer G. William Harder Hang Around Death Row Anymore

Murderauction.com sells only the most tasteful serial killer-related merchandise.
There's a long and sordid history of notorious American criminals cashing in on their fame by publishing books, selling prison artwork or hawking their personal effects. Nowadays, the macabre "murderabilia" market has mostly migrated online, where anyone with an Internet connection and an unhealthy obsession with sociopaths can buy memorabilia associated with their favorite mass murderer from sites like murderauction.com.

There's an almost-as-long history of politicians trying to stop them, starting in earnest with New York's Son of Sam law of the late 1970s, which was meant to keep serial killer David Berkowitz and any successors from inking lucrative book deals. Similar laws spread to the rest of the country as lawmakers seized upon a politically convenient way to be tough on criminals while offering comfort to victims. In 2001, after Angel Maturino Reseniz, the infamous Railroad Killer, was caught selling fingernail clippings on eBay, Texas updated its own Son of Sam law, which was initially limited to keep proceeds from books, movies and other media, to include the sale of any "tangible property."

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Dallas DA's New Digital Forensics Lab Could Cause Conflicts of Interest, Critic Says

Sky Chadde
Craig Watkins wants his office to handle all criminal evidence produced on devices such as these.
Ahead of his election day disaster, District Attorney Craig Watkins announced the creation of a new division in his office. He's done this before, most recently with the Civil Rights Division, a team that will investigate, right alongside Internal Affairs, when a police officers shoots someone. The latest is a digital forensics lab that will analyze evidence such as text messages, emails and digital video. But an in-house lab that handles and stores evidence might be a conflict of interest, or at least open proseuctors to accusations of it.

In a press release,Watkins gave the example of a thief using Google Maps to case a house, instead of one of those musty paper ones, and then texting his buddies the address, instead of meeting to discuss in person. The Google search and the text messages are digital evidence.

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If Dallas Cops Shouldn't Be Indicted for Running Over Bicyclists, Then What Should They Be Charged For?

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Bryan Burgess
When a Dallas cop shoots someone in the line of duty, you can count on Dallas Police Association leader Ron Pinkston to leap to the officer's defense. The cop who shot a mentally ill man who, as best a surveillance video shows, stood up from a chair? Shouldn't have been fired. Shoot an unarmed carjacking suspect who witnesses reported had his hands in the air? It's justified.

As head of Dallas' largest police union, this is Pinkston's natural role. He's supposed to protect his members' interests in the face of bureaucratic and political meddling, even when those interests are contrary to public opinion or a reasonable consideration of the evidence.

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The Dallas Police Finally Started DNA-Testing Old Rape Kits -- and Now, the Hard Part

James Tourtellotte
DNA analysis will be performed on a backlog of 4,144 rape kits in Dallas County.
Dallas victims of unsolved sexual crimes just got one step closer to potentially seeing justice their abusers. The Dallas Police Department recently announced it had received a portion of federal and state money to be allotted toward DNA testing for rape kits. The testing began earlier this month, and will target more than 4,000 cases from between 1996 and 2011. The department plans to submit 250 to 300 kits for testing each month.

Only 10 percent of cases will find matches. But Bobbie Villareal, Executive Director of the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center, says that since most rapists are serial offenders, a single identified case could lead to many more matches.

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Dallas County Leads Texas in Women Killed in Domestic Violence Cases

Ben Pollard
Twenty women in Dallas County were killed in domestic violence situations last year.

Life just got a little bit worse for women in Texas -- and particularly for women in Dallas County. The Texas Council on Family Violence released a study on Tuesday that shows Dallas County has the highest number of female domestic violence deaths in the state. More telling, Dallas has the highest per capita rate of domestic violence homicides in the state, with Beaumont taking second place for the deplorable ranking.

"In addition to Dallas County, Tarrant County homicide rates doubled, and Collin County tripled," says Angela Hale, a spokesperson for the TCFV. "If you look at the metroplex as a whole, you have 38 out of 119 total deaths in the state. So it is a significant number."

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Dallas County Will Experiment with Not Arresting People Caught with Marijuana

Flickr user Blind Nomad
Get caught with a joint in Dallas this afternoon and you'll find yourself being chauffeured to Lew Sterrett in the back of a squad car. Get caught with a joint in Dallas this January and you may well escape with a ticket and a stern admonition to show up in court.

The Dallas Morning News reported over the weekend that Dallas County will pilot a cite-and-release program next year allowing those caught with less than two ounces of marijuana, a Class B misdemeanor, to avoid a trip to jail.

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