ST. CLAIR COUNTY, IL (KPLR) – Video chatting is an increasingly common way to conduct meetings and stay in touch with friends and family. Now, the technology is popping up in jails as a new tech-savvy way to visit loved ones.
In St. Clair, it’s an initiative Sheriff Rick Watson says could revolutionize inmate visitation. Still, reaction among visitors remains mixed.
Every Tuesday and Saturday, Joy Rice makes the trek from Cahokia to the St. Clair County Jail to see her daughter’s father.
Video visitation would save her driving time, and allow her five year-old daughter to see dad more often, and without setting foot in jail. Rice says, “Maybe that would be a benefit of it, to actually let her just talk to him through the video, and say oh, we’re going to talk to dad through video, instead of the glass.”
“It’s a new concept that’s spreading across the country,” says Major Tom Knapp, Executive Deputy for the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department.
According to Knapp, the inmates’ families would register for the web-based visitation program and pay per minute. The tech company hired would install all equipment in the jail free of charge. Knapp explains, “For however many dollars we decide to charge per minute per inmate, that’s where they would make up their expense.”
For law enforcement, another big benefit is safety. Virtual visitation without moving the inmates back and forth means fewer conflicts. “Inmates don’t always get along together so well,” says Knapp.
Even though the program has its benefits, for Rice, communicating through a computer screen comes at a cost. She explains, “I don’t know, I guess I kind of just like the human interaction of it, even though there’s a piece of glass there, it still feels a little more comforting if they can kind of visually see you, not over a screen. I’d still want to come down here, if that makes sense.”
According to the sheriff’s department, the video calls would cost roughly one dollar per minute, and would not replace in-person visitation.
The decision to implement this video visitation program is ultimately up to the sheriff and county officials. Once a decision is made, it could take several months to implement.