Loved ones of prisoners at the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center Gretna, Louisiana will soon only be able to use computers and mobile phones to "visit” instead of meeting in person.
Sheriff Joe Lopinto made the announcement Wednesday, saying that the prison will be the first in the state to allow the new system, the Times-Picayune reported. The system will officially go into effect Oct. 10, restricting in-person visits to people providing professional services to inmates.
The current involves inmates and visitors meeting between separated glass with conversations taking place over telephone from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. With the new video system, inmates will use a computer kiosk in a commons area on their cell block with a 12-hour block of time to schedule visits, the Times-Picayune reported. Loved ones can download an app to call an inmate or go to a new video visitation center.
"This system gives (inmates) a lot more time with their family, and it also frees up assets for the taxpayers of Jefferson Parish," Lopinto said. "We can allocate resources where we think they're needed, on the streets."
Lopinto told The New Orleans Advocate that the new video system would also eliminate the possibility of visitors giving contraband to inmates.
As for the costs, the first video visit is free; however, it will cost $12.99 per 20 min block of visitation afterward with a max of three visits per day, according to the Times-Picayune.
Lopinto said the new system will reduce the number of personnel needed to oversee in-person visitation and increases safety and security. Video visitation reduces the chance of contraband entering the jail, authorities say.
Katie Schwartzmann, co-director of the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans told The New Orleans Advocate the price of video sessions could discourage visitors from meeting with inmates.
Schwartzmann and other defense attorneys Jay Daniels and Craig Mordock said that removing in-person between inmates and visitors could give prisoners a harder time readjusting to society. In addition, the attorneys said they were worried about the fact that many prisoners are awaiting trial but haven’t been convicted.
"People who are simply detained need access to family members," Mordock said. "And in-person visitation is radically different than doing a Skype session."
Advocacy groups also told the Daily Dot that these video systems can be buggy with shoddy connections and can put families in debt. As of March at least 500 facilities across 43 states use video visitation.
David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project told the Daily Dot that the intentions behind these machines aren’t good.
“Adding video visitation as an optional supplement would be fine. Making it the only option available to people and charging for it is not fine,” Fathi said. “That stinks to high heaven. That’s not about security—that’s about maximizing your profit.”