Jail visitation goes high tech
Dec 21, 2012 (Superior Telegram - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
One thing the Douglas County Jail Long Term Planning Task Force discussed during Tuesday's meeting was technology. Could advances in technology be used to help cut costs at the facility, they asked. One recent change hasn't resulted in a cost savings, per se, but it has allowed jail staff to focus on safety.
When it came time to upgrade the visitation system for prisoners, Douglas County Jail went to the web. The former video camera and phone system was been replaced with an internet service called Turnkey this fall. There are four webcam booths available in the jail lobby for visitors to chat with inmates on. But the new technology has also allowed folks to visit with inmates from home, similar to Skyping. There is no cost to use the lobby machines; there is a charge for off-site visitors to chat with prisoners, however.
Prior to the technological shift, visitation was restricted to three evenings a week, three hours each night. That time could get pretty hectic for jail staff in central command, who had to register all the visitors and monitor the lobby along with keeping an eye on jail security. Now, visitors can check in with inmates any time they aren't on lockdown, according to Jail Administrator Fred Linder.
"All in all, it's definitely freed up a lot of time for us," said Jail Officer John Ondrik.
The new system is particularly helpful for families of inmates who don't live in the area. The jail houses prisoners from St. Louis and Carlton counties as well as the US Marshal Service. Using the web to communicate saves them a trip.
Visits are still monitored, and restrictions can be put on them.
"We weren't able to save staff hours," Linder said. "We were able to keep the focus on security concerns." And putting the internet service in place was cheaper than upgrading the former video phone based system, he said.
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