King County, Wa., is spending $1 million to install a video visitation system for inmates in its two jails, allowing those on the outside to visit with inmates online. Interim Jail Director William Hayes tells the Seattle Times the system is fairly simple to use: People approved for visitations will receive free software from a telecommunications company that they can download on a home computer. That person can book a visitation appointment online and call the jail from the software-equipped computer. “It's similar to Skype, but it's a more secure system,” he said. At the other end, inmates then will be able to visit online while seated in a visitation booth. The computers they will use will be specially reinforced screens, strong enough to handle a potentially irate inmate said. Virtual visits will be scheduled in 25-minute blocks.
Each week, every inmate will be allowed one free 25-minute video call. Each additional video call will cost $12.95. As with telephone calls placed from the jail, video visits will be recorded and held for “investigative purposes” for 60 days after the call. Though the jails will still offer in-person visits, they may be phased out. Video visitations will save the county money by eliminating the extra staffing required for in-person visits. There are 1,900 inmates in the two jails. Eventually, the jails hope to allow inmates and their loved ones to visit on smartphones, laptops, tablets and other mobile devices. “You've got to maintain that family connection with families and friends,” said Hayes, who noted that inmates who maintain strong family ties are less likely to reoffend.