Full Text of Our Petition to the County Commissioners

Sign this petition at https://www.change.org/p/durham-county-board-of-commissioners-stop-video-visitation-in-durham-county-jail

Detainees in the Durham County Jail, and their loved ones on the outside, overwhelmingly oppose the Sheriff’s department’s proposal to implement video “visitation” – a glorified phone call – and many of us see it as the first step towards eliminating in-person visitation, as has already happened in Wake County and jails and prisons around the country. As it is, families are required to show up 30 minutes in advance for a 20 minute visit with plexiglass between them and their loved ones. The visits are cumbersome to schedule, especially for those who do not have internet access. Video “visitation” will still have all of these disadvantages. It will also still require visitors to be physically present at the jail, just to have a skype chat with their loved ones, and if/when external “visits” are permitted, it will cost “visitors” 20 cents to a dollar per minute – contributing to both the isolation and financial exploitation of detainees and their families. While the Sheriff claims that video “visitation” represents no threat to in-person visitation (that is, real visitation), according to a 2015 report by the Prison Policy Initiative, in 74% of cases where video “visitation” is introduced, real visitation is eventually taken away entirely.

The Durham County Board of Commissioners are complicit in the Sheriff’s attack on detainees’ human right to in-person visitation. According to an article in Indy Weekly, “In 2013, commissioners approved a budget amendment adding the Justice Department grant” which is funding the implementation of video “visitation” “to the sheriff’s budget. Because county departments don’t have the authority to accept grants on their own, this action was required; the board could have voted it down. That amendment specified how the grant would be used.” The commissioners also voted in favor of the Sheriff’s department contract with GTL, which explicitly provides for video visitation.

The County Commissioners also have the power to act to defend visitation. They could have defended it in 2013, had they bothered to read the GTL contract and the Department of Justice grant to the Sheriff’s department, which they voted to approve, and to consult with the public, especially detainees and their loved ones, about it. Time and again, they have displayed a remarkable capability to exercise power over the jail when put under enough public pressure, even after repeatedly protesting that they have no power to act. The most recent example of this is the role they played in removing Aramark from meal services at the jail after detainees and community members organizing with Inside-Outside Alliance raised health and safety concerns around the jail, including maggots in the food. In the same way, there are any number of steps that they can and should take to put pressure on the Sheriff to guarantee in-person visitation to detainees and their loved ones. Some of these are:
Use their power under NC state law to put the Sheriff under oath and make him answer the public’s questions about video visitation, as well as his collaboration with ICE and other human rights violations.
Reverse their decision not to hold a public meeting to hear the Durham Human Relations Commission’s report on the Durham County Jail, which explicitly recommends that in-person visitation be defended as a vital resource for detainees and their loved ones.
Use their next opportunity to vote NO on the Sheriff’s contract with GTL or any other contract that includes video “visitation” services and pressure the Sheriff to drop GTL the same way that they successfully pressured him to drop Aramark from providing meal services in the jail in 2016. If Aramark can be prevented from putting maggots in detainees’ food, then GTL can be prevented from implementing video “visitation.”
Publicly pledge to vote NO on any Sheriff’s budget that includes funding for video “visitation,” whether from the Department of Justice (who are currently funding video “visitation” for a “trial period through a grant to the Sheriff’s department) or from the county itself.
Publicly pledge to vote NO on any new money for the Sheriff’s department from the county so long as in-person visitation remains under threat.
These are just some potential steps that the County Commissioners can take to defend in-person visitation for their constituents in the jail. There are, no doubt, others, and we invite the commissioners to be creative in exercising their power – especially their budgetary power – over the Sheriff’s department. At the very least we call upon them to publicly acknowledge that they do have the power to act.

Therefore, we the undersigned demand that the Commissioners, and the Sheriff’s department, do all that is necessary to ensure:
That there is no reduction in in-person visitation in favor of video “visitation.”
That glorified phone calls do not come to replace in-person visitation in any way.
That all video visitation equipment currently installed in the lobby of the jail be removed and no new equipment be added.

“Are we all inmates and we just don’t know it?”

When we go down to the Durham Country jail, I am asking myself who is the inmate? I didn’t know I had a number till they scheduled a visit for me. I thought I was a visitor, but they assigned me a number. I haven’t committed a crime but they treat me like an inmate and prevent me from seeing my son. By having that website down, and having to go to the desk to schedule a visit, it is all a part of the control. That’s why there have been less and less visits.


How do they control visitation? By limiting access to the person that needs to come and visit the inmate. The weak will get frustrated, and act out. That limits them and they can’t come back for 30 days. They get eliminated. Then it makes room for the next person to have access to their person.


The jail is eliminating those who won’t fit in the system. If you can’t fit in the system you’re eliminated. Only those who know how to act and work the system get access. Those who don’t get systematically eliminated from frustrations: not knowing how to get a visit started, or keep a visit going. So that circle of visitation gets smaller. Because there are barriers, unless you know how to get around or through the barriers you are eliminated.


I know this because my son was on one pod and all the visitation spaces were taken. If you pay attention you learn how the jail eliminates access to visitations: through times, through the vehicle of access (ie. scheduling appointments), the number of appointments that can be taken at one time, the number of visits that can be taken. So you don’t get one.


On four separate occasions, I have gone down to the Durham Country Jail and scheduled a visit to see my son through the desk only to be told when I returned for my appointment that “no appointment existed.”


It isn’t easy because I am disabled. You don’t have anywhere to park. Sometimes its really far, especially if DPAC is having something. I have to sit down before I get there and sit down before I leave — just to have them tell me that I don’t have an appointment.


I am glad I am strong otherwise it would have wrecked me. I have seen other people act ugly because it has happened. I don’t say anything because I know they have my number. I know they are watching me on camera. They want me to act ugly. Un ugh, I just remain strong and go back and try it again. Next visit, I hope that it will come through, and I will get to do the actual visit.


But I am asking myself who is the inmate? Are we all inmates and we just don’t know it?


– Visitor at Durham County Jail

“Its a vicious cycle where their goal is for you to lose everything you have”


I received two letters from you on March 31st, one was dated February 11th and the second March 27th. So I think there may be some lag time with the mail. You asked if I had received the Human Relations Commission’s Report and I have not! The only thing I received in the mail are two written letters and both March and April “Feedback” booklets. There is no report anywhere to be found if it was sent. Though, I wouldn’t be surprised if it conveniently was lost by the mail inspection here.

As for your inquiry about any knowledge in regards to Uniece Fennell. There is none in 3D, no one knows a thing here and the officers are tight lipped as if it never happened. When I called home the day after the incident my family was asking about the death – And I had no clue about it at all. When I asked the officer in the pod about it he would not comment and wouldn’t even confirm that anything happened. I watched the local news that evening, there was no story about it there either and nobody gets the newspaper. The women’s pod is on the 5th floor, we are in the dark down here on the 3rd floor. Sorry I couldn’t be of any help this time.

Video visitation seems to be a hot topic lately. I heard that the jail was going to transition to it like Wake County but I didn’t realize it was happening NOW! A couple days in the past few weeks we have been prevented from coming out of our cells in the morning because they had someone working in the visitation room: They’ve already started installing metal mounts to house the video screen. It looks like they are progressing forward despite all the protests inside and out. The feedback booklet hits on a few critical points such as profiting GTL as well as the jail’s profit and how video visitation will dehumanize personal interactions. I want to point out how the District Attorney’s office will directly “profit” from it, too. Just like our phone calls I would think the video visits will be recorded. The district Attorney’s office has access to your phone calls and will now be able to pry into your visits. There is no privacy whatsoever. They read our mail, they record our phone calls, and now they will be keeping tabs on our visits. What would it be like if we had that privilege to listen to the prosecutors and DAs discussions and every phone call that they make. Invade their private interactions. Now that would be something. My point is that the deck is already stacked against you and anytime I speak my mind I have to worry whether or not what I say could be falsely used against me or perceived some other way. It’s ridiculous!

On to other topics! The food and ABL. It has been a roller coaster with them and there is no consistency. When they began in October, there was promise, but now I can see that was just a front. The first 3 weeks were good! A variety of fresh fruit including Bananas, green vegetables, including chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, good portion sizes, and no soy. Currently, the fruit we get is not ripe, heavily bruised, and tastes awful, easily finding its way into the trash container. We have not seen a banana since the first couple of weeks. We hardly get greens, nothing like we got the first few weeks even if we do. Lately the food has been so salty you can’t even eat it. The pancakes yesterday were hard as a rock. At this point I don’t know which company was worse, ARAMARK or ABL. There is absolutely no variety ether. You get the same meals every week multiple times a week. It’s getting old very quick. Honestly, at this point I hope the jail does not review ABL’s contract. What reviews I saw and the article about ABL in the newspaper raving about their good quality and healthier menu is a lie. My vote would be to kick them out too. Their quality and service has been declining since day 1.

I wrote last time about the DA’s office and the prosecutor threatening to obtain another search warrant after a judge has already noted significant misconduct by officers. Well they mangaged to get one, how, I have no clue. The only way is by lying and bad faith, which the DA’s office is notorious for so I’m not surprised. I just read an article in the newspaper on 3/31/17 quoting a supreme court judge. In summary it mentioned that the average person does not think the justice system within North Carolina is fair and a large percentage think the process is too slow. My follow up question to that would be to isolate Durham and see how it compares. My guess would be that Durham would be far worse. I sit here day after day watching how the system in Durham works and it is concerning. Most of the prosecutors are no better than Mike Nifong and Tracy Cline, maybe even worse. I swear they teach a class to these prosecutors on the best way to hide the truth, withhold evidence, and when all else fails keep them in jail and delay, delay, delay. Its a vicious cycle where their goal is for you to lose everything you have; whether its your job, house, car, marriage, etc. And once they’ve exhausted and beat you down by holding you in jail they wait until you give up. It’s just crazy to me and something needs to be done.

Oh, I want to give my thoughts on this jail with regards to Uniece Fennell. I don’t know what happened, but if it was suicide I don’t think that means the jail can wash their hands from liability. My understanding is that this jail was supposed to get more funding for mental health. Officers were supposed to get training on how to better handle mental health issues. If Uniece was troubled enough to harm herself, there were obvious signs that should have been caught. These officers don’t care about anyone in this jail and they are certainly not observant enough. Next, how does the jail provide the means for someone to commit suicide. This should not have happened and should not have even been possible. I’ve lived in these cells for 17 months, if she was able to be successful in her attempt – something was not right and something needs to change. You stress the hell out of people and then place them in a harsh environment. We already know that mental disorders are widely prevalent within the jail. It’s a shame that yet another person dies in this jail.

Alright! Thanks for the letters and Feedback! Looking forward to hear from you soon and any new updates!

– E.X.

“This is just another hint to the new age of high tech slavery.”


How are you doing G___? I hope all is well with you and your team. I received your letter on the 21 of March, but I had received the books two days before, which I am truly grateful. I am still waiting for the WEB DuBois “Souls of Black Folks,” and yes, you can send me more books by similar authors that deal with the struggle of liberation and the fight against oppression. My mind has a thirst for knowledge, so please, keep the well running.

On another note, the video visitation is another form of control and the further removal of privacy. The whole point of an in-person-visit is to be able to converse with your people about your well-being (that can be seen with the eyes) if you are being mistreated, and most importantly things about your case that can’t be said on the regular phones.

Its bad enough having to keep your loved ones in the blind about your fate with the Criminal Justice System because the phones is recording. Also, every single moment we are being recorded and watched and now they want to watch our visit. This is just another hint to the new age of high tech slavery. Also, its psychological warfare, the conditions of the mind to be more passive and non-rebellious. It is to imply we know what you’re planning before you do, I see your every move and its these very thoughts that become embedded, subconsciously, in our mind that causes the majority to be timid or content when it comes to checking the powers that be.

So, all in all, its just another infringement upon our privacy and to insert the county dominance over the convict. Also, to take every little things away that can bring joy to a convict soul.


Black Holocaust

‘I can’t stand another minute!’


Mayor : Hey, Sheriff Andrews, aren’t you supposed to be raising money for charity by being locked up in the Durham County Jail? Where are you going? The Muscular Dystrophy Association needs you here collecting money for your bail!

Sheriff: Change of plans, Mayor Bell! I can’t stand another minute in the Durham County Jail! The ABL food is horrible, the cells are freezing, and many of the officers are just plain jackasses. Plus, they gave me such an excessive bond, there’s no way they’re going to raise enough money for me to get out. And I better escape now, because with my office bringing in video visitation, the community might just pay money to keep me in jail!

Durham Democrats Oppose Video Visitation

On Saturday, April 1, the Durham County Democratic Party met for its annual county convention. The following is the text of a resolution that they passed opposing video visitation at the Durham County Jail.


Whereas; Eliminating, or even minimizing, in-person visits (visits behind plexi-glass in Durham County) can affect recidivism rates. Allowing inmates to see friends, family and loved ones face-to-face (even when behind plexi-glass as in Durham County) can reduce their chances of re-offending once they get out of jail, according to a 2015 study called “Screening out Family Time,” conducted by the Prison Policy Initiative. More personal communication improves an inmate’s well-being, while video visits make the contact less personal. (Screening out Family Time,” conducted by the Prison Policy Initiative.)

Whereas; Prison and jail visitation policies should recognize that family support is crucial to maintaining the relationships between those incarcerated and those who love them, especially as it pertains to developing and maintaining bonds between parents and children. Every available study agrees: Best practices for developing those bonds involve in-person visitation.(This would include current plexi-glass visitation as in Durham Detention Center.)

Whereas; Using video visitation technology requires computer literacy, which becomes a barrier for many desiring to use the service. Even those with a firm grasp of computer technology report frustration dealing with the many glitches and interruptions of service. Given the demographics of those in American jails and prisons – poor, mostly minority, a significant portion of whom speak Spanish as a first language – this technology may prevent any meaningful communication. (Public Policy Center, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition)

Whereas; The Durham County Detention Facility detains people who have not been convicted of any crime at the time of detainment, may only be unable to pay a few hundred dollars to be released while awaiting trial, may only suffer from mental illness, does not warrant the hardship of video visitation to the detainee and/or their family.

Whereas; Currently our Sheriff says he has no plans to make video visitation the only method of visitation, he, nor any county official, has any way of guaranteeing that in the future. We do know it will be expensive to implement and maintain for the county and potentially for the citizens trying to visit detainees, (ie: Wake County charges visitors $1.50 a minute) (http://wunc.org/post/advocates-question-plans-video-visitations-durham-jail#stream/0)

Therefore; be it resolved that the Durham County Democratic Party requests that the Durham County Detention Center NOT incorporate video visitation as a means of visiting persons detained in the county jail.

Be it further resolved that the Durham County Democratic Party requests the Durham County (Commissioners) and City (Council) and all Durham County elected officials not support, nor budget for any video visitation at the Durham County Detention Facility.