BLUE HILL — The Hancock County Jail continues to move forward with plans to change contact visits to video visits.
Starting in 2017, probably this spring, the jail intends to change the style of visitation for inmates and their loved ones from face to face through glass to a video visitation system.
The pending change, which has upset some Hancock County residents and prisoner rights advocates, was part of the Hancock County Commissioners’ agenda for their monthly meeting Tuesday.
Here’s what led up to Tuesday:
The commissioners voted in December to enter into a contract with Securus Technologies, the company that will install the video system and handle payments, which are done online. There is no cost to the county.
Back to the Tuesday meeting, Commission Chairman Antonio Blasi asked Sheriff Scott Kane what the policy is regarding video visitation.
“We are going to install units and discontinue contact visits,” Kane replied. “We made this decision for financial and safety issues.”
The sheriff added that his and Jail Administrator Tim Richardson’s phone lines are “always open” if people have questions or concerns.
Commissioner Percy “Joe” Brown added, “The sheriff runs the jail.”
Richardson also addressed the board.
“We’ve heard a lot of negatives, but it’s a positive thing to bring to the facility,” Richardson said.
Richardson listed activities that an inmate would not otherwise be a part of without video visitation. They include, reading a bedtime story to a child and attending doctor visits.
Also, with video, bad weather doesn’t prevent visits.
“We aren’t shutting the world off to these inmates,” Richardson said. “We are enhancing what they already have. I brought this to Hancock County as a positive, not a negative.”
Blasi clarified that the contract “did not preclude contact visits.”
Richardson said it did not.
Brown said the move would have a great effect on contraband coming into the jail.
“It’s a safety issue and a contraband issue,” Brown said. “I don’t think people understood that.”
Richardson replied, “We have people on the streets overdosing on drugs — they’re not taking what they think they’re taking. We have to protect our inmates.”
Commissioner Bill Clark, who served 34 years as sheriff before electing not to run again in 2014, recalled the average length of a county jail stay to be 30 days.
“There’s this whole analogy we’re denying physical contact — it’s an average of 30 days,” Clark said. “To me, that’s not harsh and cruel. To me, for the value we’re getting, it’s well worth that loss.”
Critics of the video visitation system, which include prisoner rights advocates, cite several issues with the model, including video quality and cost, which averages around $6 for a 20-minute visit.
Video visitation is already operating in other Maine county jails and in much of the United States.
Securus operates in more than 3,400 correctional facilities in the United States.
The commissioners had voted to approve the Securus contract in December 2016.
The vote was two in favor, one abstention.
Former Commissioner Steve Joy, who lost his bid for re-election in the Republican primary in June, voted in favor of the contract, as did Blasi.
Brown had abstained, stating that he “owned a bit of the company.”
Later, Brown clarified his statement, stating that he abstained because he owns stock in biometrics. Biometrics is a form of technology that uses measurements to identify people through fingerprints or eye scans, to name a few ways. Securus uses biometrics in some of its products.