It seems it’s no longer a matter of if, but rather a matter of when video visitation equipment will be installed in a correctional facility near you. These systems use technology that allows inmates and their family/friends to see and communicate with each other through monitors and/or other electronic devices while each party is at a different location or facility.
And by the look of the steady stream of news regarding new video visitation installations, it appears that correctional facilities see this technology as a financially viable tool with multiple benefits aside from just the communication between two parties. Recent headlines that illustrate video visitation’s growth include:
That does not mean, however, that video visitation is winning over everyone who has a stake in correctional facility visits. Currently there is a national debate regarding whether and to what extent video visitation should be used in prisons and jails. Proponents say the benefits of video visitation include:
- Reduction in costs for facilities since fewer hours are used to move inmates to visitation areas
- Online registration and scheduling improve ease and accessibility for visitors
- Reduced lines and wait times for visitor check in
- More visits can be conducted and visitation hours expanded without additional staff
- Decrease in contraband transfer between visitor and inmate since each party is at a different location
- Will allow law enforcement officials to listen to conversations and gather evidence regarding criminal behavior
Others, like Margaret diZerega, director of the Family Justice Program at the Vera Institute of Justice, believe that correctional facilities should be careful that video visitation doesn’t overstep in-person visits entirely and that extra efforts should be made to ensure family members actually get to see their incarcerated loved ones.
In an opinion piece in The New York Times, diZerega wrote. “… no video technology can replace the feel of a hug or the opportunity to play together in person, even if that playtime is happening inside prison walls. Fewer than half of incarcerated parents receive visits from their children … Given the benefits of these visits to parent and child, to facility safety, and ultimately to public safety, more effort needs to be made to increase both actual visiting and alternatives like video visits.”
Despite which side of the fence your opinion falls on, video visitation installations show no sign of slowing down. Perhaps the best approach to video visitation was articulated by Dan Pacholke, Assistant Secretary for the Prisons Division, in a press release from the Washington State Department of Corrections, when he said:
“ Video visits don’t replace in-person visits but they do provide additional opportunities for friends and family members – particularly those who are unable to travel long distances – to connect with their loved ones, which is important for prison and public safety.”
White Paper from Norix Furniture: The Benefits of Video Visitation in Correctional Facilities