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Let’s Skype: Video Visitations New Norm For Inmates

Are video visitations taking the place of in person visitations?

Video visitationDistrict of Columbia jails made the switch from in person visitations to video visitations on July 25. Shatterproof glass used to separate inmates at District of Columbia jails. Now, inmates and visitors are in two separated buildings only connected through computers equipped with Webcams.

Proponents state video visitations are more convenient, safer, and a cheaper alternative to in person visits. Some jurisdictions are even beginning to charge for these visits. Critics of the switch include prisoner advocates and corrections officers. Critics fear the video visits will reduce inmates’ morale and would allow less meaningful contact with family members, which could be dangerous upon the inmate’s release.

Currently, the District of Columbia Department of Corrections has installed 108 video stations. Half of the of the stations are in jail housing units, and the other half in the new Video Visitation Center at the District of Columbia General Hospital complex.

The District of Columbia jail houses 1,800 inmates, all of which are male, on any given day. Most inmates are in the custody of the jail for less than one year. Many are awaiting trails. The facility also houses Convicted inmates that are awaiting sentencing where they will go to another facility to serve their time.

A relative’s take…

One mother shares her story of how the video visitation has affected her relationship with her incarcerated son. Angela Davis, 41, recently finished her second video visit with her son. Her son has been incarcerated for 14 months awaiting a trial on charges of armed robbery.

Ms. Davis says she does miss watching her 21-year-old son walk into the visitation room and sit in front of her. She says that during this time she would make sure he had no scratches or scars while observing is body language and gestures. “He doesn’t know that, but that’s what I’d be doing,” Ms. Davis says. “I can’t really do that if he’s just sitting there and all I see his face. You can’t really do that on a monitor.”

Ms. Davis says she now sees only her son’s face and troubling backdrops. She says that in the background she sees guards and inmates walking around behind her son in the upper tiers of his cellblock. Her son says he misses the extra time he had out his cell that he gained on his way to and from the visits.

Ms. Davis does agree that the video visitations are not all bad. She says the systems does have benefits including, less time waiting to see her son, and also not having to undergo intense frisking prior to entering the jail. Ms. Davis says she used to have to waiting as long as two hours to see her son. District of Columbia corrections department state that the systems has doubled the number of visits possible each day to 400.

The Savings

The video systems are also beneficial cost wise. The new systems are saving $420,000 a year, which is 64 percent of the $660,000 budgeted for visiting costs in 2012. Jails are also much more secure because inmates are not moved around as much. Also, there is little risk in visitors smuggling in contraband.

Global Tel Link set up the system for no charge.  Global Tel Link receives money from phone calls made from inmates.

Some agencies are now charging as much as $15 for a 30-minute visit and $30 for a 60-minute visit. Facilities that charge family and friends to use the service also still have in person visits as an option.

Currently, there is no real data on the number of facilities using video visitations. Data from system vendors, criminal officials, and legal experts estimate that hundreds of jails in at least 20 states already have the system in place or are planning to adopt the system.

Sociological Impact

Whether this new system will have an impact sociologically is still up for debate.  Some feel the bond between seeing a loved one in person rather than through a screen is helpful for the inmates. Arthur M. Wallenstein, director of the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation in Montgomery County, Md. Believes that real family contact is essential. Wallenstein states, “But a younger generation of correctional administrators much more focused on technology may see this new approach as more than acceptable.”

Like the District of Columbia, Broward County, Fla. has adopted the video systems. Lt. Col. Kim Spadaro, the director of the country Department of Detention and president of the American Jail Association, which represents more than 3,2000 jails, says she has not seen a decrease in intimacy since installing the video systems in 2007.

“Either way, they’re not able to have physical contact with their family members,” she states. “They stay right in their cell, they’re on their video screen, they have their privacy, and they’re still having basically the same visit as the one they had when they’re separated by glass,” Lt. Col Spadaro concludes.

South Carolina Criminal Lawyers

If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, you need a lawyer who will stand and fight for you. The South Carolina Criminal Lawyers at the Strom Law Firm will fight to get your charges reduced or ultimately dismissed. Call us today for a free consultation to see how we can help you. 803.252.4800.

About Pete Strom

Defending criminal charges including drug crimes, DUI, CDV, mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, computer crimes, money laundering, and juvenile crimes, Pete also handles Federal and State investigations. Representing individuals in Civil Matters including Class Actions, Personal Injury, Qui Tam Actions, Defective Products, Nursing Home Neglect, and Professional Licensing Defense cases. Joseph Preston “Pete” Strom, Jr., the managing partner at Strom Law Firm, L.L.C., has been fighting for justice since 1984.

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