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Jails Reflect on Pros and Cons of Remote Video Visitation Systems to Connect with Inmates

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February 25, 2014

Jails Reflect on Pros and Cons of Remote Video Visitation Systems to Connect with Inmates

By Daniel Brecht
Contributing Writer

Inmates are typically allowed one phone call per day while in prison. They are allowed to place collect telephone calls by using their Inmate Personal Identification Number (IPIN) and can receive approved no-contact and contact visits. To arrange a visit at jails around the country, friends and family members of inmates, usually, need to fill out and submit the obligatory Visitor Application form.

Prisons, however, have different rules on when and how often people can visit; as well, they have protocols on the number of visitors allowed at the same time. Thanks to remote video visitation being allowed in some detention facilities, however, visitors can connect to inmates, remotely, using a Web-based system. “Jail officials in Clark and Champaign counties [located in the Springfield and Urbana, Ohio area] are still considering the option to offer inmates remote video access to their lawyers, family or friends…,” reported Springfield News-Sun in a recent post on its website.  

Remote video visitation is an alternative to face-to-face visits in which participants typically are separated by panes of glass. The use of technology is currently under review by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)) as a convenient online system to allow virtual visits in correctional facilities.

According to the Springfield News-Sun post, “The FCC currently is gathering suggestions on if and how to regulate video visitation as part of work on rates charged for inmate calling services. The county proposes to charge either inmates or other users $10 for 20 minutes for remote access under the plan.”

Also stated in the post is “that fewer than 200 jails nationwide currently offer remote video visitation but said the option is being promoted by vendors to jail officials around the U.S.” Video visitation in jails is an investment that can potentially meet both the inmates’ needs as well as security needs. In fact, risks associated with moving inmates around the jail are reduced. The post goes on to say, that the system is also “seen as a way to raise additional revenue for jail operators and the vendors providing the technology.”

As of today, according to Scott Springhetti, director of the Tri-County Jail in Mechanicsburg, his facility is not ready to provide the new technology, but is considering it. Currently, two of the four regional jails in Ohio, allow remote visits, as noted the Springfield News-Sun post. It states that “Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail in Nelsonville has it and is having a good experience. Corrections Center in Northwest Ohio in Stryker has it and is having connection problems.” The post declares, “Springhetti said he is waiting for those jails to iron out the kinks, and then he will make decision. He plans to ask more questions next time the four directors get together to meet.”

The following are Pros and Cons regarding video visitation systems in use today:

Pros: The systems take the place of face-to-face visits that require people to drive to the prison and meet an inmate. Evidence shows the video visitation system helps families stay connected is positive, according to an e-mail by Advocate Erik Crew.

Cons: The systems are said to be complicated to operate and prone to breakdowns. Advocates claim officials need to prevent vendors from overcharging for the service, as rates vary from 25 cents to $1.29 a minute, declared Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative. However, some say it is still cheaper than driving to the facility.

Overall, according to Advocate Erik Crew “Ohio Justice and Policy Center favors video visitation, provided the service is affordable and easy to use.” A remote visitation system, which could be setup in a way similar to Edge Access' VoiceWise Video Visitation solution, for the jail could improve efficiency, cut costs, and generate revenue. As for the local jails in Ohio, the new systems are an apt way to meet inmates remotely but, ultimately, a method to help address safety and security concerns when moving inmates from their cells to visitation rooms. Even more, video visitations can potentially help reduce visitation staff normally used for monitoring.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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