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More jails replace in-person visits with awful video chat products

After April 15, inmates at the Adult Detention Center in Lowndes County, Mississippi will no longer be allowed to visit with family members face to face. Newton County, Missouri, implemented an in-person visitor ban last month. The Allen County Jail in Indiana phased out in-person visits earlier this year. All three changes are part of a nationwide trend toward “video visitation” services. Instead of seeing their loved ones face to face, inmates are increasingly limited to talking to them through video terminals. Most jails give family members a choice between using video terminals at the jail — which are free — or paying fees to make calls from home using a PC or mobile device.

Even some advocates of the change admit that it has downsides for inmates and their families. Ryan Rickert, jail administrator at the Lowndes County Adult Detention Center, acknowledged to The Commercial Dispatch that inmates were disappointed they wouldn’t get to see family members anymore. Advocates of this approach point to an upside for families: they can now make video calls to loved ones from home instead of having to physically travel to the jail. These services are ludicrously expensive. Video calls cost 40 cents per minute in Newton County, 50 cents per minute in Lowndes County, and $10 per call in Allen County. Outside of prison, of course, video calls on Skype or FaceTime are free.

These “visitation” services are often “grainy and jerky, periodically freezing up altogether,” reports Ars. As for why so many jails are adopting them, it has a lot to do with money. “In-person visits are labor intensive. Prison guards need to escort inmates to and from visitation rooms, supervise the visits, and in some cases pat down visitors for contraband. In contrast, video terminals can be installed inside each cell block, minimizing the need to move inmates around the jail.” The video-visitation systems also directly generate revenue for jails.