The Lincoln County Jail is ending all in-person prisoner visits at the end of January. The county is switching to a pay-per-minute video visitation system that utilizes webcams or Android phones. Officials say the new system will save taxpayer money and give inmates increased opportunities to contact their loved-ones. But an Oregon civil rights group says an all-video system could mean higher recidivism rates.
Under a new web-based visitation system, inmates at the Lincoln County jail will be able to video chat with friends and family at a price of 35 cents per minute. Currently, the jail only staffs in-person visitation hours on weekends, and the new system will potentially allow for more frequent visits, according to Sergeant Tom Graham.
Graham: “It gives them five more days and actually increases the chances of them having a visit.”
Sergeant Graham says even with the per-minute charge, the video calls are often more economical than the fuel and time costs for rural residents traveling to the jail.
Graham: “Our first phase, we haven’t built in any type of allowance, what we call and indigent allowance. We, in phase two, are developing a plan to allow those people that don’t have money to have visits. But we want to make sure it’s a reasonable program that works for them.”
Graham says that second phase will be rolled out in the next three or four months.
“In-person” doesn’t mean there is actual contact between a prisoner and guest - the meetings are separated by a pane of glass and talk is done over a phone line. But even this says Jan Carson, Associate Director of the Oregon ACLU, is more personal than a video connection. Carson says whether an inmate continues criminal activity after release is correlated to how much contact they have with family while in prison.
Carson: “In person is always going to be better than a video and only telephone access. So it’s a bit distressing to hear that Lincoln County wants to go to allowing only video visitations.”
Carson is also concerned about the quality of the video and whether family and friends will have access to the technology needed to make the connection.
The Lincoln County Jail has in-person visitation dates scheduled for several weekends throughout December and January, but will cut off those visits come February 1st.
Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio