Knox County jail using new video visitation system [The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn. :: ]
(Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 29--The Knox County Sheriff's Office next month will end face-to-face visits and begin a new video visitation program, allowing families of inmates to connect via the Internet from home -- for a fee.
KCSO Capt. Terry Wilshire said Friday the video visitation is $5.95 for 15 minutes or 40 cents a minute.
Pay-Tel, the company that will operate the service, has installed more than 30 kiosks valued at more than $200,000 at the county jail downtown, along with the work-release center and the detention center on Maloneyville Road.
Those wishing to visit can sign up via www.jailatm.com and then schedule their visitation time beginning April 7, KCSO Assistant Chief Deputy Rodney Bivens said.
Family members who can't afford the video visits may still come to the detention center in East Knox County and use kiosks there for free, Bivens said.
"It saves families from driving all the way to the detention facility and having to wait in the public visitation area, plus at $5.95 for 15 minutes, it costs more for two gallons of gas," he said.
Bivens said with video visitation, visitors have a guaranteed time slot ahead of time, with up to four 15-minute visits available per week.
"It gives them an hour of visitation a week," he said.
Bivens said inmates also use the Pay-Tel system to pay for two-way email service, which costs 33 cents per message.
"That's cheaper than the cost of a stamp," he said.
Wilshire said the visitor must cover the cost of the video visit.
"It doesn't affect the inmate's account at all," he said.
Bivens said time for visits often expires under the current system before inmates get to see their families.
He said people who visit now must sit on one side of a glass window talking to the inmate via a headset. Now all visitations -- from visitor's homes or using the free option at the work release center -- will rely on the video system, Bivens said.
"This will also cut down on fights in the visitation area, and it is a benefit to folks who don't want to come to the detention facility," he said.
The service is being tested for free now. Jail personnel will begin scheduling times on April 7 for video visits, which begin April 14.
The chief said there are nine kiosks in the public area at the work-release facility for free video visitation and one kiosk for disabled visitors in the public area at the detention center. There are 33 kiosks at the detention facility, and 15 at the downtown jail at the City County Building, he said.
Bivens said KCSO officials signed the contract with Pay-Tel for the video visitation services about 18 months ago, but it took time to install wiring at all three facilities and to get the kiosks built, which were on back order.
"In the last three weeks we started letting some of the inmates try the system," he said.
Bivens said the county general fund collects any profits over what items from the jail commissary -- including video visits -- cost.
"The benefit for taxpayers is that the (money) we make back pays back some of what we're spending to supply items for inmates -- food , medicine, clothing, and hygiene products," he said.
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