Maricopa County, Az., jails are installing a new video system that will allow inmates to have virtual visits with family, while earning the county sheriff hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, but make it harder for some relatives to see loved ones, reports the Arizona Republic. The high-tech system, which will be the largest of its kind in the U.S. according to the manufacturer, will let family and friends anywhere in the world talk with inmates via video, so long as they have access to a computer with a camera and a credit card to pay $12.99 for a 20-minute conversation.
The system, expected to be in place early next summer, is meant to make visits easier and improve security at the county jails, which book 100,000 people every year. As work begins on installing the Internet-based system, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office cut regular visiting time from three hours per week to 30 minutes. Although sheriff's officials say the system will make visiting inmates easier, it's not being welcomed by prisoner-rights advocates. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona criticized the sheriff’s office for planning to eliminate face-to-face visits at its three jails because it could mean fewer people have access to inmates.