NBC News explores whether the increasing use of video visitations adds to the isolation of prisoners from their loved ones. More than 500 prisons and jails across 43 states now use video systems for visitation, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. Prison officials and firms that sell video systems say the devices reduce contraband, expand visiting hours and save on staffing costs.
But advocates and relatives of prisoners say the devices further isolate inmates and are costly to their families. State prisons have typically used remote visitation in concert with contact visits, but the Prison Policy Initiative found that 74 percent of jails that implemented the technology subsequently banned in-person visitation. In addition, most video systems now also allow for Skype-like visitation, where family can sign on and speak with loved ones from home for a fee, generally between $5 and $20 for a 20-minute visit. Critics of the systems say jails have gone to video-only visitation to encourage the fee-based home visits.