Video visitation raises lots of questions

Dear Editor:

Your story on “video visitation” replacing in-person visits at the county jail is startling. Because my experience with the criminal justice system is limited, questions abound:

  1. Jail Administrator Richardson says that contact visits tie up manpower. Isn’t the use of manpower to effectuate visits within the scope of the jail staff job description? Has there been a study to determine more efficient use of manpower during visits, such as scheduling changes and visit logistics?
  2. Mr. Richardson says that contact visits increase the risk of contraband entering the jail. Is there a huge problem with contraband entering the jail during visits? What steps have been taken to eliminate contraband trafficking during visits, why are they not effective and what else could be done to solve the problem? Wouldn’t sitting-at-a-table-across-from-each-other-without–touching visits or just-holding-hands visits or through-glass visits solve this problem?
  3. Commissioners Joy and Blasi voted to contract with the video company. Did they also vote to discontinue personal visits or was this decision made solely by Sherriff Kane? Who has the authority to make impactful decisions such as this one and is there a system in place for public comment, scrutiny and recourse? Were social workers, counselors or therapists consulted to discuss the possible emotional, social and even physical impact of this change?
  4. Do the County Commissioners oversee Sheriff Kane and the County Jail?
  5. Banning contact visits seems to be a reasonable response, on a case by case basis, if visitation rules are violated. Why are people who abide by the rules now banned from visiting?
  6. Regarding the video system, Mr. Richardson says he has “talked to some of the inmates and they are excited about it.” Adding a video option is a great idea, and I can understand the excitement at having an additional means of communication. Are the people who are incarcerated excited about losing personal contact visits with their families and friends? Are the friends, spouses, and children excited about losing personal visits with their loved ones? I bet they are heartbroken, especially the children.

I think $6 for a 20-minute video visit seems exorbitant, and this is one of the unfortunate outcomes of contracting with a for-profit business for jail services. The term “captive audience” has never been more appropriate. Were the video service being added as an option, along with personal visits, the price tag might be reasonable. That the only option for a family wanting contact with their loved one is to subscribe to a pay-for-use video service is disappointing.

That the county jail, in turn, will show a profit of $13,200 per year at the expense of families who want to stay in contact during a very difficult time is even more disheartening.

Rick Traub

Blue Hill

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