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D.C. Jail Video Visits Prompt Complaints

September 19, 2012 | Telepresence Options
09182012_jail.jpgPhoto by AlbinoFlea
In most traditional jails and prisons, visitors speak to inmates over the phone and with a pane of plexiglass separating the two. But as of mid-July, the friends and family of those detained at the D.C. Jail have been ushered into a room lined with TV screens and video cameras at a nearby building. Gone are the in-person visits, replaced instead with a form of video-conferencing that D.C. corrections officials laud for its convenience and prison rights activists lambast for removing the last human contact that many inmates have to the outside world.

At a community meeting called by D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson in Deanwood yesterday, Thomas Faust, the director of the D.C. Department of Corrections, defended the system, saying that the 54 monitors located outside of the D.C. Jail allow more visits, spare visitors the unpleasant experience of going through the jail's security and are more cost-effective.

All told, he explained, the jail can now handle 400 visits a day, has expanded visiting times from two 30-minute sessions a week to two 45-minute sessions, and offers weekend visits. All of this, he argued, at substantial savings over in-person visits--the video visits cost some $420,000 less a year in staffing costs. The point of the video visitation system--provided free of charge by the company that runs the jail's phone system--he said, was to "increase accessibility for family and friends." 

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