by David Reutter
Visitation is a major aspect of jail and prison operations. For corrections officials, it is wrought with logistical, staffing and security concerns; as a result, they have increasingly turned to video calling, which, in addition to addressing those concerns, can also be profitable.
The Virginia Beach Correctional Center (VBCC) abandoned non-contact in-person visits in 2005 and installed a video calling system. That system required prisoners’ family members and friends to come to the jail to visit via video terminals.
In recent years the video calling system had been known to malfunction for hours or even days at a time, and it finally broke down on March 31, 2018, with 122 video terminals in need of repair. The contractor that had installed it was no longer in business. Using the in-person glass visitation booths to allow visits was rejected as a security risk, said VBCC Chief Deputy of Operations Victoria Thomson.
“What we’ve done to try to get the families to have more contact, or some contact, with their loved ones is we’ve provided free telephone calls,” she added.
However, the free five-minute calls created a “dangerous situation,” according to Virginia Schelleng, whose son was held at the jail. “The telephones seem to [have] a very long line, sometimes they run out of time to even get to the phone, so it’s not as easy as they put it up to be.”
Three months later, in July 2018, a new video calling system was finally installed by a different vendor, GTL. The new system, which uses tablets, was cited as being more convenient.
“The inmate will be able to do it from their cell block. There will be docking stations for the tablets where they can dock the tablets. [Family members] can visit from home. They don’t have to drive all the way here. They don’t have to find a sitter for the kids,” Thomson said.
VBCC’s experience with video calling follows the typical trend in which jails abolish in-person visitation in lieu of video systems, and enter into lucrative contracts with vendors that charge prisoners or their families for remote video visits. And when the system breaks down, as it did at VBCC, there are simply no other visitation options. [See: PLN, Oct. 2018, p.23; June 2018, p.20; April 2017, p.22].
Sources: www.pilotonline.com, www.wavy.com, www.13newsnow.com
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