Visits with prisoners at Houston’s Harris County Jail have never been intimate experiences, says the Houston Chronicle. After standing in line, sometimes for hours, inmates’ friends and family – officials estimate 640,000 annually – are escorted by guards to banks of concrete booths where the air reeks of body odor. Visitors and prisoners press their ears and mouths up to a small vent in a pane of a plastic glass barrier to hear or be heard.
Now, virtual visitation – via a video screen – is scheduled to replace the more familiar visit. Visitors would communicate with inmates, who total more than 10,000, over video computer hook-ups. Plans for the virtual visitation are mentioned in the county’s proposed $1 billion bond package that commissioners are expected to discuss Tuesday. They could vote to place the package on the November ballot. It includes construction that would transform an existing county facility into a minimum security jail, including the video visitation. Then video systems would also be installed in the county’s two main downtown jails. A major appeal of a video system to law enforcement is the reduction in the number of guards needed to accommodate face-to-face visitations.