Video Jail Visits: Does More Efficiency, Security Trump Personal Family Contact?


Washington, D.C.’s switch to video visitation of jail inmates is a growing trend in the corrections field, says the New York Times. To proponents, the video systems provide a more convenient, safer, thriftier alternative to in-person visits. Critics, including prisoner advocates and corrections officers concerned with how prisoners fare once they are released, fear that the video visits allow less meaningful contact with family and could hurt inmates' morale. Sylvia Lane of the District of Columbia corrections department said the video system will double the number of visits possible each day to 400, while eliminating long lines and invasive security checks and also lowering staff costs. She said it would keep the jail more secure because inmates do not have to be moved around as much, and the risk of visitors smuggling contraband into jail is drastically reduced.

Hundreds of jails in at least 20 states already have the systems or have plans to adopt the technology. Many agencies charge as much as $15 for a 30-minute visit and $30 for a 60-minute visit. In-person visits typically remain an option. Arthur Wallenstein, corrections director in Montgomery County, Md., does not believe that prisoners should be limited to video visits, which is now the only option in D.C. “I believe real family contact is essential,” he said. “But a younger generation of correctional administrators much more focused on technology may see this new approach as more than acceptable.” Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the video systems have “enormous potential.” He said: “We have placed many more people in prison over the last generation. We have created many more children who have a parent in prison, and that has consequences for their developmental processes. Why not use this technology to enhance the relationship between incarcerated parents and their children?”

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