online video visitation with prisoners has promising future

While onsite video visitation systems for communicating with prisoners have been used in the U.S. since 1995, online video visitation with prisoners has now become highly feasible.  Online video visitation allows prisoners’ family and friends to visit prisoners via personal, secure Internet video conferencing from their homes.[*]  A crude estimate for potential online prisoner video visitation service revenue is about $200 million per year in the U.S. This communications industry development can increase prison security, lower prison operating costs, and increase the welfare of prisoners and their friends and family.

Personal visits with prisoners can be a significant conduit for contraband.  The risk of passing contraband causes many prisons not to allow personal contact visits with prisoners.  Even non-contact but open-air visits have contraband risks.  Because of security concerns, allowing personal visits only across a transparent barrier is quite common.  Such visits have similar sensory properties to video visitation, but much higher costs for all parties.

Online video visitation lessens prison operating costs.  Moving prisoners securely from cellblocks to visiting areas requires considerable prison staff time.  A physically separate visitation facility also requires dedicated staffing.  Video visitation stations for prisoners can be distributed close to cell blocks and in a way that minimizes additional staffing required to supervise the video visitation stations.  Such efficiencies in turn allow prisons to offer a wider range of times and days for visits.

Online video visitation also lessens visitors’ costs.  Prisoners held for terms longer than one year are typically held in large state facilities that can be a long distance from where the prisoners’ family and friends live.  Online video visits eliminate visitors’ travel costs, both time and expenses. Because of unavoidable variance in travel times, on-site prisoner visits cannot be precisely scheduled, and often they are not pre-scheduled. Hence visitors can spend considerable time waiting for a visit.  Online video visitation allows more precise visit scheduling, allows visits to be scheduled across a wider range of days and times, and reduces visitors’ opportunity cost of waiting.

Online video visitation would serve to foster successful prisoner re-integration into society after release from prison.  Newly released prisoners face enormous challenges in surviving as law-abiding citizens.  Support from family and friends plays a critical role in successful re-intergration.  Online video visitation, by fostering communication between prisoners and their family and friends, would help prisoners to maintain the relationships that they will need upon release.

Providing new communication opportunities for prisoners is not just a promising business.  It’s also in the public interest.

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Read more:

Data: U.S prisoner visiting statistics and estimated online video visitation revenue (Excel version)

[*] In the U.S., an onsite video visitation systems was first installed in the Brevard County jail complex in Florida in 1995.  The system reduced the cost of moving prisoners within the prison. A similar system was installed in a Washoe County, Nevada, jail in 1999.  An online video visitation system was installed in Ada County, Idaho, in 2009.  After an Ada County sheriff’s poll found that 43% of homes didn’t have Internet access, churches and bail bond companies stepped up to provide Internet access.  The high share of homes not having Internet access may reflect a bias toward the demographics of the disadvantaged jail population.  The Twin Falls County jail in Idaho is moving towards online video visitation. The Kootenai County jail in Idaho has a similar system that could also support online video visitation.

3 thoughts on “online video visitation with prisoners has promising future”

  1. i’m trying to see how i can visit my sister savanah seaman who is at the womans prison on smiley road cause i can’t get there. I would like to know i go about doing this. I have a computer for this to happen. if possible i can get the information sent to me my address is …

    1. Sorry, I have no such information. I suggest that you contact the prison administrators to find out possible arrangements. Good luck!

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