Magazine article Corrections Forum

Convicts Do Conferencing

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Convicts Do Conferencing

Article excerpt

It is hard to believe, but the people in our country with the most exposure to the high-tech world of telecommunications may be those living in our

federal, state and local correctional facilities.

This summer, Sprint, Kinko's and the state of Missouri teamed up to provide video-conferencing capabilities to three state correctional facilities on a trial basis. Inmates at Missouri's Farmington, Jefferson City and Western Missouri correctional centers can now have virtual visitors from 155 Kinko's locations around the world. This new service allows family, friends and attorneys to "visit" inmates without making the trip to the actual facility. To use the system, visitors go to their local Kinko's and make an appointment to conference with the inmate of their choice.

While the trial is still in its infancy, the technology has tremendous potential. With video-conferencing, attorneys can save the driving time required to visit their clients in rural prisons. Since many of these attorneys are courtappointed, this results in cost savings for the taxpayer. Video-conferencing also has a security feature. Convicted felons and those caught attempting to pass contraband to prisoners are not allowed to visit state prisoners. With videoconferencing, the visitor does not need to physically enter the prison, and as a result, even those banned from the facility can communicate with an inmate. For additional security, each conversation is monitored and prison officials have the right to pull the plug should the need arise.

To date, only a handful of families have taken advantage of the new technology. However, it is to early in the trail and many families are unaware that the option exists. Sprint, Kinko's and corrections officials are just beginning to publicize the project and are advertising to families of prisoners and local attorney groups.

Prison officials speculate that anther factor hindering the system's use is prisoner resistance. Many inmates may be reluctant to tell their families about video-conferencing because they fear their families will choose to "phone-in" visits instead of coming in person.

Finally, the largest constraint n the system may be price. Today, it costs $135 per hour to video-conference with an inmate. …

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