The issue of inmate visitation is always a cause of concern for administrators of prisons and jails. The needs of the inmates and their families to remain in contact have to be balanced against the facility’s needs to maintain security for the safety of staff, the inmates, and their families. In person visitation has many problems such as the potential for the transfer of contraband which necessitates the need for the staff of the facility to carefully search each person entering the facility for contraband. Furthermore, a great deal of staff is necessary to transfer inmates back and forth from their cells to the visitation area. This puts an extreme burden on facilities that are often already stressed with budgetary concerns and staff restrictions. Switching from an in person visitation system to a video system is a solution to this problem that is currently being implemented at facilities around the country.
Inmate video visitation has many benefits for the facilities that choose to incorporate this technology. Video visitation systems increase the safety and security for everyone involved in the visitation process. Inmates are able to communicate with visitors directly from their cells, which means that the inmate will not have to be escorted through the halls to the visitation room, eliminating chances of fights between inmates and eliminating a chance for inmates to attack guards. Visitation by video also eliminates the chance for the inmate to get into an argument with their visitor that could escalate to violence. In addition to safety benefits video visitation allows for increased visits between inmates and their friends and families because there is less of a burden on the facility to organize routine visits.
Facilities that choose to install video visitation equipment quickly begin to see how the technology saves the facility money. The facility no longer has to employ additional staff to facilitate visitation. With additional funds available the facility can devote attention to improvements, safety features, and staff training. These areas may go without the needed funding for long periods of time due to limited resources being allocated to in person visitation. Furthermore, many of the machines designed for video visitation also serve as systems for visitors to deposit money with the inmates. This allows for the inmates to spend money at the commissary for additional goods much more easily. The ease which visitors can deposit money with inmates means that more money will be following through the facility. This is a net benefit to both the facility and the inmates themselves.
One of the concerns with video visitation is that it increases isolation for the inmates. It is true that this system eliminates face-to-face visits, which may cause some frustration for the inmates. However, in the long-run the system allows for increased visits for the inmate which should alleviate any sense of isolation that is caused by the video system. Because of the increased safety afforded by these systems it is likely that they will continue to be added to facilities around the country despite some of the drawbacks.