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DeKalb goes high tech with video visitation, glass partitions fading away

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The DeKalb County Jail has launched a new, high tech visitation system.  Sheriff Thomas Brown says DeKalb is joining other correctional facilities around the state and the country with the launch of its  “video visitation” for inmates. The DeKalb jail implemented the new system on Jan. 15.

Visitations where guests see the inmates through glass partitions will only be used rarely—by clergy, attorneys and other special exceptions. When visitors go to the jail now, they will use computer stations for web-based video chats with inmates. Once the new system is fully operational, visitors can chat from their home or office—anywhere they have a computer connected to the internet.

“It just adds another feature for that mother or grandmother or loved one, who, because of a great distance, cannot visit in person,” Brown said. “It doesn’t matter if you you’re in Savannah or Tokyo. You can log on.”   

The video visitations also will help deter misconduct including fighting, flashing and other banned behavior, Brown said.

“Sometimes, you have girlfriends going to see the same guy and fights break out as they are passing one another along the corridor, Brown said. “Other times, they will try to flash or expose themselves when they’re at the glass partitions. This will resolve all of that.”

Deputy Chief Jeff Mann, who worked on the procurement and recommendation for the technology, said the jail is still working through some of the bugs. He said the system should be fully operational in a few weeks and jail officials will begin publicizing a call-in number for people to make prescheduled video visitations.

“It’s going along well. We have had some delays, though. Overall, I would give it about a B+,” said Mann. “We are working to get to the point so that the visits are prescheduled.”      

The jail has installed 26 computer cubicles in its newly-designed visitation area and  144 computers on the floors where inmates are located. Visitors log on for their web-based video chats and follow the prompts, which are in English and Spanish.

The video chats are free to visitors who come in person and attorneys who need to reach inmates. Securus Technologies charges $20 for 30 minutes of conversation for those who don’t want to come in person. 

Brown said the new system will return millions to DeKalb’s operating budget.

“The taxpayers didn’t have to pay anything for the system. The calls will pay for the system and put money back into the operating budget for taxpayers. The system is guaranteed to generate $1.7 million in the first year,” Brown said.

Inmates will continue to have access to telephones. Inmate-placed telephone calls, Brown said, generate considerable revenue for the jail and the jail has no plans of eliminating them.

Brown said the Securus system will not only provide inmates with video visitation but it will enable inmates to put in medical request forms electronically to see a physician or nurse and fill out requests for commissary items.

“That’s important for us because that’s a manual transition that we’ve had to do in the past,” Brown. “Now, we don’t have to touch it all. It’s all electronically transferred.” 

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