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Antitrust Claim Against Prison Tech Firm

DENTON, Texas (CN) - A giant telecom company pays Denton County, Texas kickbacks for a monopoly on "video visitation," after the county banned face-to-face visits, prisoners claim in an antitrust class action.

Lead plaintiff Elizabeth Paige Young sued Securus Technologies Holdings on March 25 in Denton County Court.

Another prisoner, Derrick Matthew Rice, sued Securus, Denton County and its sheriff and the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, individually, on March 23.

Citations in this article are taken from the class action complaint.

Young et al. claim that Securus gained monopoly power as sole supplier of video-visitation services after the county banned traditional, face-to-face visits in exchange for a 20 percent commission of revenue.

Young is the mother of an infant son with a Denton County inmate. She says that the video-visitation fees of up to $20 per visit make it difficult for the child and his father to interact.

Attorneys can meet with their clients in person under the policy, but families cannot.

"As a result of Denton County's termination of face-to-face visitation, non-profession individuals (family, friends, spouses, children, clergy, etc.) desiring to visit an inmate held in a Denton County Correctional Facility have only one option, use of the Securus products contracted for by Denton County, and payment of the associated fees and costs. Every other avenue of visitation has been revoked by the new visitation policy," Young says in the complaint

The Denton County Commissioner's Court approved the video visitation service in July 2014. Denton County Sheriff Will Travis began enforcing the policy on Jan. 31.

The plaintiffs say the mandatory use of the video-visitation system caused them to incur unreasonable costs they would have not otherwise have had to pay.

"As a direct result, plaintiffs and plaintiff's children will be prohibited from speaking with, seeing, or otherwise communicating with (the) inmate until he is released from custody," Young says.

She adds: "Denton County is contractually obligated, by the ITS [Inmate Telephone Service] Agreement with Securus, to prohibit in-person (face-to-face) visitation for non-professional visitors. This prohibition maximizes the financial burden on those desiring to visit the inmates, and maximizes Securus' profits, with which it pays Denton County a substantial kickback."

According to the 31-page complaint, Denton County also reduced the inmate visitation policy by 85.7 percent, from two visits per visitation day, to two visits a week.

Both policy changes affected the Denton County Jail, Denton County Juvenile Detention Facility and Denton County Pre-Trial.

Rice challenged the policy under Texas law.

Young et al. claim the policy violates state laws against monopoly, attempted monopolization, restraint of trade, illegal tying arrangements and exclusive dealings, and violates Sherman Act provisions against conspiracy and monopolization.

She seeks class certification, declaratory judgment, an injunction, treble damages and costs.

Securus, which is based in Dallas, did not respond to request for comment Monday.

Young is represented by J. Edward Niehaus, with Bodkin Niehaus & Dickson, of Denton.

Rice is represented by Richard Gladden of Denton.

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