Recently Moseley Architects invited some current and prospective clients to our Richmond office for presentations and demonstrations of video visitation systems. Our guests, jail administrators, sheriffs, corrections planners and state corrections personnel were introduced to three different video visitation system manufacturers and a systems integrator, all who specialize in the installation and maintenance of video visitation systems in jail and prison systems. The manufacturers Renovo Software, VizVox, LLC, and Innovisit, LLC, conducted demonstrations and presented information of their respective products. They identified the systems primary components, described the systems’ functionalities, presented cost options, and discussed the standard and optional features available.
Today, most Moseley Architects’ jail and prison designs incorporate video visitation components into the plans. The question of whether video visitation saves money is no longer a matter of debate – it does. How quickly a system pays for itself is not as clear, and savings are not always easy to quantify. Paybacks result from (1) labor savings as a result of not having to escort inmates to and from housing areas to visitor stations and reduced management of the public in the visitor area; (2) labor and transportation savings from not having to transport inmates for professional visits such as courtroom arraignments, medical, and attorney consultations, and (3) reduction in contraband entering the facility and increased safety and security of staff and inmates.
Increasingly, video visitation systems offer what promises to be such potentially cost-effective options as Web-based self-scheduling systems, real time monitoring of visits, digital storage of visits, video arraignment, and court document software which allows detainees to review and electronically sign court documents. A major advance has also been the development of optional features for visitation systems to allow integration with jail or prison management information systems, commissary systems, email accounts and library/educational program accounts. Video visitation and arraignment in jails and prisons is increasingly replacing inmates’ in-person courtroom visits, parole board and even replacing face-to-face psychiatric, medical and attorney consultations. All of which have the potential to save time and money.
The most obvious way to generate revenue from video visitation is charge for visits. While a certain number of free visits are required in all jurisdictions (the number varies by locality) there is generally no prohibition against charging fees for additional visits and fees for these visits can typically be set by administrators. Some agencies provide multiple visitor centers in the community from which visitors can participate in remote visits. Visitors can choose from one of several locations in the community and are charged fees for this convenience “service.” Community video centers are in such places as local police stations, community centers, other jails or prisons in the area, or local churches.
Correctional and detention facilities are increasingly moving to internet visitation to provide an easier visiting solution for the public, reduce contraband entering the facility, and generate additional revenue. In one locality a mobile detention visitation bus travels the county and makes stops at strategic locations.
The issue of allowing nonprofessional visitors to chat with inmates from their residences is still an issue up for debate. Many officials are not yet comfortable with the overall lack of content control and control over “who” is talking to the inmate on the other end of the line. No doubt technology will continue to advance to address these concerns. As advances are made, the probability that video systems will not only pay for themselves but become increasing sources of revenue.