By Craig Harris Gov. Doug Ducey is opening the door to allow counties to compete against private-prison companies for a lucrative multimillion-dollar contract to house
A growing trend toward the use of video visitation at jails across the country is drawing the praise of corrections officials and prisoners’ family members alike, though some advocacy groups worry that video visits could pose an undue financial hardship on those least able to afford it and possibly lead to the elimination of in-person visits.
“I think it’s the way of the future,” said Kane County, Illinois police commander Corey Hunger. “In the next 20 years, I think everyone will have it.”
At some jails, visitors can use video screens to communicate with prisoners in another part of the facility. Other systems allow people to conduct visits via the Internet from a remote location, including their own homes. Prisoners typically use video monitors set up in cell blocks or other designated areas; the visits are monitored and recorded. [See: PLN, July 2013, p.44; Sept. 2012, p.42; Nov. 2011, p.37; Jan. 2010, p.22].
But in Kane County and other jails, the installation of video systems spelled the end of in-person visits. Hunger said not having to screen visitors and escort them through the jail frees up guards to perform other duties. Officials also claim that doing away with face-to-face visits reduces confrontations among prisoners and the risk that visitors will smuggle in contraband.
“[F]rom the standpoint of safety and security, it’s a huge improvement,” stated St. Clair County, Illinois Sheriff Rick Watson. “Every pod has a video monitor and the prisoners don’t have to be moved for visits, which saves on staff time. And if you cut down on movement of prisoners, you cut down on dangerous incidents.”