In-person visits are great for prisoners when they are possible, however we all know that they are not always possible. The problem is that many are not able to get to the prisons where their loved ones are during the visitation hours. There are very specific hours set that help the prisons to control who is able to get into the prison and for how long. This is just something that they have to do in order to maintain security.
Instead of leaving some families out of the rain because they are unable to make it to the prison when they need to, many prisons are now offering video conferencing as an alternative.
The prison sets up a video link to the inmate that the loved ones can view them through and have their visit this way. It means that the loved ones do not have to leave their home at all in order to have this visit, and the inmate still gets to see what is going on back home. It is less prohibitive because it simply means that the inmate can see his or her loved ones more often.
Companies like Securus Technologies are working to get more of these video link systems set up throughout the country. They want to make it possible for all families to have the same opportunities as all others. It is critical if they are to have as much contact with the inmates as possible. Keeping open those very human lines of communication helps the inmates feel better and behave better in many cases as well.
The video conferencing does cost some money but some families report that it is still much less of a strain on them personally because they do not have to travel nearly as far as they once did in order to visit with their loved ones.
Just like most of today’s social interactions, face to face prison visits aren’t in Bastrop County Jail’s budget. What might save a prison some cash will be removing the face to face visits in favor for a Skype like video chat. This way was improvised to save prison money and time, as well as insure prison safety.
At a pricey cost of one dollar a minute, the system hasn’t posted results they had been hoping for. On average, the system has only been used a few times per month, while phone calls are still the prisons highest form of communication. All profits of the system so far has gone into fixing the many bugs that are causing it to be unstable and broken. This jail is just one of the hundreds that have failed to meet expectations using this system.
In around ten months that the systems have been in place, only 49 video calls have been placed while in the same time frame, 2,444 phone calls were placed. The issue is not the price for most users, the problem is the time it takes to sit down and have a face to face chat while one can sit on the phone at any time of the day. Inmates can chat on the phone for as long as they need to, but are only limited to twenty minutes a week in video chats. Physiologists also warn prisons that a lack of physical communication can be dangerous to a prisoners mind, communication with loved ones is key to a healthy mind.
Clearly these systems have issues, not just the technical ones. Perhaps in the future they might be able to find a solution to the problems and this may become an industry standard. It is just as likely that the idea will be scrapped for favor of another, more efficient system. Only time will tell, but louder might be the angry prisoners who are mad they cant see their loved ones in person.
In Movember 2014, Bastrop County Jail in Texas decided to do away with in person visitation and replace it with video visitation. The sheriff’s office claimed it was to save money and to improve safety. The visits now are fraught with technical issues.
Recent records show that only a few visits are logged each month, and all the money made from the video visits go back into paying for the expensive system. Visitors have the option of going to the jail, using the video system for free, or they can use it from home for 1 USD per minute. The Prison Policy Initiative, a group advocating for inmates and their families, claims that this system is failing to meet the revenue expectations.
Only 49 visits were logged one month as compared to the over 2,000 phone calls. The county jail has to pay Securus back for each unit they have. Unfortunately, they have only been able to pay for one unit per year. The jail will not see a profit until 2025. The jail currently earns 84,000 from phone calls in a year.
The Prison Policy Initiative says the video system is failing to make a profit, because it has too many technical difficulties. Also, the lack of in person contact has a terrible effect on inmates. The video visitation system could lead to more behavioral problems from inmates.