Face-to-face visits are something many inmates serving time look forward to. Being able to see friends and family members in person, to laugh and enjoy conversations together, is a way to make long sentences seem shorter. It helps families stay bonded, helps children know family members who may otherwise be absent from their lives and gives inmates something tangible to remind them that there is a life waiting for them on the outside.
For inmates in the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center in Gretna, La., those visits will be a thing of the past beginning Oct. 10, when the facility switches to a video-visitation program similar to one implemented at lockups in New Orleans a few years ago, the New Orleans Advocate reports.
Newly promoted Jefferson Parish Sheriff Jeff Lopinto believes that there are many benefits to a video-visitation system. In a statement on Wednesday, he said that one of the biggest benefits would be ending the possibility that visitors would pass contraband to inmates during visits.
In addition, Lopinto said that although both types of visits require monitoring, it takes fewer staff members to monitor video feeds than it does to monitor in-person visits.
Lopinto also believes that video visitation will increase the availability of inmates to see their loved ones. Although in-person visits were available only for two-hour blocks once per week depending on an inmate’s cell assignment, video visitation will allow friends and relatives to communicate with an inmate via cellphone or computer nearly 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
Sounds promising, right? Too bad it isn’t free.
Using the video-visitation service remotely will cost nearly $13 for a 20-minute session. That price could be cost-prohibitive to many families and discourage them from using the service. This means that some inmates could become alienated from their families and friends altogether, and that is what some attorneys who work in criminal defense and criminal justice are afraid of.
Katie Schwartzmann is an attorney and co-director of the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans. She and local defense attorneys Jay Daniels and Craig Mordock all told the Advocate that there is research showing that incarcerated people who have access to their loved ones while in jail have an easier time reconnecting with them after they are released, and that helps them avoid returning to a life of crime.
The three attorneys also expressed concern that in this instance, personal contact from the outside world is being removed from a facility that primarily houses people who are awaiting trial and have not been convicted of a crime.
“People who are simply detained need access to family members,” Mordock said. “And in-person visitation is radically different than doing a Skype session.”
According to the sheriff’s office, free video-visitation sessions will be made available once a week at a sheriff’s facility in Marrero, La. Three additional visits per day can be arranged, using the remote service, at a cost.
So: Cash bond system. Check. Costly collect calls. Check. Now charging for inmate visitations.
This is turning into some sort of government fundraiser, isn’t it?
Read more at the New Orleans Advocate.