Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

August 27, 2013

Promoting visits

Jails helping inmates meet with family via the Internet

The Independent

ASHLAND — The Campbell County Detention Center in Newport is using technology to help prisoners communicate with family members who live many miles from northern Kentucky. It is an excellent service that we hope many other Kentucky jails will soon copy.

Earlier this month, the detention center began offering off-site Internet access visitations similar to Skype. Jailer James Daley told The Kentucky Enquirer that the system would provide additional security at the jail, decrease the amount of jail staff time spent on visitations and give an advantage to inmates’ families.

“A child should not suffer because mom or dad is in jail,” he said. “Now, anyplace they can access the computer, they will be able to have a lot more visitation time.”

Statistics show that those who have regular visits from family members while they are behind bars are less likely to commit new crimes and return to jail once they are released. But it is not unusual for an individual to be incarcerated hundreds of miles from their families. Even if they are not, visiting an inmate in jail can be a harrowing experience, especially for children. Just having to empty their pockets and be exposed to frisking and seeing the jail doors close behind them when entering the visiting room can be a chilling experience for children whose only “crimes” are having a parent or other close relative incarcerated.

Daley said he got the idea from the Rutherford County Jail in Murfreesboro, Tenn., which as offered online visitation since May. Rutherford Jail Lt. Chris Deal says it has increased safety and allowed inmate to bond with loved ones.

“So far, it’s been good,” said Deal. “It keeps the jail safer.”

Both jails require people to give a 24-hour notice that they intend to use the service, they must register and they pay for it.

Deal said there is the potential for nudity, profanity and other unacceptable behavior, but “we get that anyway in our lobby.” If that happens, deputy jailers have recourse.

“We have the ability to shut it off right then, there, boom, you’re done,” Deal said.

The service is not cheap. Campbell County is paying $206,000 for the system for the first year, but much of that is a one-time for installation of on-site visitation through video viewing. Both Daley and Deal both say it’s worth it.

“It’s self-sustaining,” Deal said, adding that visitors pay for their time online with inmates.

“The key for me is to offset as best we can taxpayers’ cost,” said Daley, who agreed that the pay-per-visit initiative helps do that.

Patel Services, which outfitted Campbell County with its system, said the concept is catching on in several states. “The whole reason for this is, they have to use less staff time to do it,” said Brett Ruschman, managing partner of Patel.

Law-abiding family members can offer inmates the support they need to turn away from crime. On the other hand, inmates who rarely receive any visitors can easily become isolated and lack the support they need not only while incarcerated, but even more so when they are released.

We have no problem with charging family members for use of the service. Chances are the cost of visiting a loved one over the Internet will be far less costly and much more time-consuming than driving to the jail for visitation, and if the fees help pay for the service, all the better.