Magazine article Corrections Forum

VIDEO VISITATION: Issues Involving Both Optional and ADA-Mandated Video Visits

Magazine article Corrections Forum

VIDEO VISITATION: Issues Involving Both Optional and ADA-Mandated Video Visits

Article excerpt

THERE ARE TWO primary types of correctional video visitations, Chris Talbot, CEO and president of SecureVRS, points out. There is the optional type, in which facilities offer inmates the use of a video visitation system so they can communicate with people on an approved list such as family members, attorneys, clergy, and doctors, either within or outside the institution.

If it is used within the facility, there is no charge. If the visitor is outside the institution, there may or may not be a charge. The availability is "purely optional and purely for the hearing world."

The other type is mandated video visitation, which is a requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and requires hearing impaired inmates to have the same phone call access as hearing inmates. While the first case is more common, the use of video visitation is growing in both arenas.

There are, however, concerns involving both optional and mandated video conferencing. Officials state that video visitation systems improve security in numerous ways. Prisoners' rights activists worry that the system, which they argue can be prone to technical glitches, will replace the free person-to-person visitation with person-to-pixel visitations, and on top of that, the trend might be to eventually eliminate the free in-person visits with one that would require a fee.

Lawsuits have been filed, and bills have been introduced and passed. In Dallas in 2013, Judge Clay Jenkins and inmate advocates successfully fought a proposed contract that would have banned in-person visits altogether and awarded a contract that would allow solely for video visitation. State Representative Eric Johnson, who authored the House version of the bill, pointed out to the Dallas Observer that the bill "relates to county jails, not prisons-60 percent of those who are there are innocent, waiting for trial, and couldn't afford the bond to get out of jail." In June 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 549 into law, which mandates that inmates in county jails be allowed at least two noncontact visitations per week. (Some jails were grandfathered in to remain solely with video visits because they were built without the facilities for face-to-face visitation. The determination will be decided on a case-by-case basis.)

Cutting the Contraband

Regardless of the legal battles, the optional use of video visitation can offer a solution to security and other concerns that have long plagued understaffed and overworked correctional facilities. Nathan Skipper, VP of Sales at Montgomery Technology, Inc., (MTI) states, "Ask any facility administrator, and he or she will tell you that one of the biggest headaches of the job is handling visitation.

"The primary security concern related to video visitation," furthers Skipper, "has to do with the whole reason that it was invented to start with: contraband." Video visitation can essentially eliminate contraband being smuggled in by visitors because it prevents any physical contact between the inmate and the visitor. Systems also allow the facility to arrange the system so visits are conducted in different areas ensuring that not only are visitors not in contact with inmates, they are not even in the same building.

There is also the matter of security of both personnel and inmates. As Skipper notes, video visitation reduces or eliminates the need to move inmates because visitation stations can be mounted in the dorms. "The highest security risk for a correctional facility is caused by inmate movement."

Another security concern, says Skipper, is ensuring confidentiality for privileged visitors such as attorneys, which cannot be recorded or monitored due to client-attorney privilege. He furthers that a system such as theirs prevents this by providing two layers of security. First, attorneys can be registered as privileged visitors, in which case they will not be recorded. Second, facilities have the option to designate certain visitor booths as "privileged" booths, in which case no visit that occurs on those stations will be recorded or monitored. …

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