JANESVILLE — Rock County Jail inmates can no longer see their loved ones in person during visitation, but new technology could expand the amount of time families can talk with incarcerated loved ones.
The technology already is lightening the load for correctional officers.
The jail no longer allows face-to-face visits between inmates and their friends or family members. Instead, visitors can start accounts with Telmate, a telecommunications company that has invested $350,000 in a video visitation system at the jail. The system is the company's first in Wisconsin, Sheriff Robert Spoden said.
Each inmate gets one free 30-minute video visitation each week. Friends or family members who want to talk to inmates more often can do so for a per-minute fee.
The rate is $7.50 for a 30-minute video chat using the monitors in the jail visitation room or $19.80 for a 30-minute chat from a home computer, Jail Cmdr. Erik Chellevold said.
Telmate installed the equipment at no cost to the county, Spoden said. According to the five-year contract between the county and Telmate, the company will collect the fees until the cost of equipment and installation is paid off, Spoden said.
That is expected to take about 20 months. After that, Telmate and the county will split the earnings 50-50, he said.
The money will be a new revenue stream for the county, Spoden said.
Previously, visitations took place on a first-come-first-served basis Saturdays at the jail. Visits were limited to 20 minutes, unless visitors had to travel farther than 25 miles, according to visitation information posted on the county's website.
Now, loved ones can video chat with inmates any day of the week at any time other than lockdown, when inmates are shut in cells and out of common areas, Spoden said.
How it works
A person who wants to visit with an inmate by video can create an account in a few minutes using a computer, a telephone or one of two kiosks in the jail lobby. Registration at the jail requires a photo scan of the visitor's driver's license. Registration from anywhere requires the last four digits of the visitor's Social Security number.
That is not new. Visitors were required to bring identification to meet with inmates for face-to-face visitations, Chellevold said.
Visitors who want to buy video time in addition to the free 30 minutes or who want to log in from home must add Visa or MasterCard credit or debit cards to their accounts, according to Telmate's video visitation instructions.
Visitors can log on to chat from anywhere in the world from any computer with a video camera and access to high-speed Internet. Telmate does not support video visitation from smartphones, according to the company's website.
Families without computer or Internet access at home can use one of four visitation monitors in a room in the jail lobby.
In Rock County, only Beloit's public library has computers with video camera availability, according to a Gazette survey. That library has two such laptops.
Built to last
For the inmates, touch-screen monitors are stationed in common areas in jail pods. When someone touches a screen, it opens to a list of pending visitation requests.
"They're watching it all the time," Spoden said about the monitors.
Inmates can choose to accept or deny visitation requests. Depending on the pod, between 16 and 24 inmates have access to one monitor. Telmate could add more if data show a higher demand, Spoden said.
The video visitation system does not change inmates' telephone privileges, Chellevold said. Like phone calls and mail, the video visitation sessions are monitored and recorded, he said.
The touch screens are built to last, Spoden said. He demonstrated for The Gazette by pounding on a screen with a handset. Although such activity is discouraged, the screen was undamaged.
The Telmate system will provide more than video visitation. Families can use Telmate to deposit funds into inmates' accounts for commissary purchases, bond, Huber fees or electronic monitoring fees.
"Basically, we've stopped touching cash," Chellevold said.
In the future, inmates could access the jail's law library on the monitors. They could have email access, limited access to some websites and paid access to computer games, Chellevold said.
The video systems also improve jail safety, he said. Historically, the lobby was packed on visitation days. Corrections officers were busy moving inmates from their pods to the visitation stations.
"From a security standpoint, it's not what you want to do," Chellevold said. "The less you have to move inmates, the better."