Prisoners sit nervously at a computer screen waiting to see a loved one or a family member they have not seen since March. This is the scene as, in an effort to reestablish visiting, California prisons have instituted a new virtual visiting program. Now family and friends can communicate with loved ones from the comfort of their home or office.
In these unprecedented times, CDCR began a pilot program offering real-time video visits. Smiles and air hugs were shared once the visiting connection was made.
“It was strange. Different. But right now, anything is better than nothing,” said Edward Brooks, a San Quentin resident who experienced the virtual visit on Thanksgiving weekend. “My wife doesn’t like it. She, like others, wants that physical connection. I can deal with it. And even though she says she doesn’t like it, there’s no doubt in my mind that she will be setting up another visit for next month.”
San Quentin has 10 visiting stations, each equipped with a computer monitor within the prison’s visiting room. Each video visit can last up to 30 minutes.
“What first registered to me was the fact that before entering the visiting room, we were being patted down and searched despite there being no one in the visiting room except CDCR guards,” said Brooks.
Officers maintained normal visiting protocols and an IT person was on-site for any technical issues that could occur. Some minor technical issues did occur, such as a dropped video feed and/or buffering during several of the visits. However, the occurrences lasted no longer than a few seconds, while the audio feed remained intact.
“Because my family lives out of state, and many of them are too old to make the trip out here, it is a blessing for me to have that interaction by whatever means necessary,” said Leonard F. Brown, a San Quentin resident, about his visit. “Something had to be done to give us access to our loved ones, and if it has to be in an empty visiting room and on a computer monitor, then I’m blessed for that privilege.”
The video-visiting program first rolled out in five institutions: San Quentin State Prison, California Institution for Men, Mule Creek State Prison, Valley State Prison, and Central California Women’s Facility, but has since expanded to all the institutions.
Families are allowed to schedule a visit every 30 days. The video calls are on a secure and encrypted Webex computer system. According to the CDCR, visits may be canceled at any time for health and safety reasons.
“For what’s going on right now, (with COVID) it’s good, and I applaud CDCR for its effort,” said San Quentin resident Anthony Waldrip.
Prior to the video visiting program, CDCR and Global Tel Link had joined together to offer two free phone calls per month due to COVID-19’s impact on the lack of family interactions. CDCR has yet to mention if the free calls will continue to be offered.
Even without the physical visiting, some of the incarcerated population look forward to having that connection with their families to help deal with their mental health. Some people have lost loved ones and had to process that loss without knowing what was going on at home.
“For the guys whose mothers have passed away, if they could have talked to her, or even seen her on video, (that) would have been a blessing,” said Patrick Baylis, a San Quentin resident.” So people should take advantage of the video visiting because not only is it a blessing to us, it’s also a blessing to our families.”
CDCR was working toward reopening in-person visits with limitations, but with California COVID cases across the state on the rise, prisoners and staff safety trumped its occurrence, according to CDCR website. But video visits will be used at this time.
“After our visit, we were made to go through the metal detectors,” said Brooks. “I don’t understand the philosophy of that, but the visit itself was not a bad experience for me.”
The VPass scheduling process will no longer be used to schedule visits. Approved visitors will now be required to submit visiting requests to each institution’s designated email address (see box).
Video visiting pilots took place at the following institutions the weekend of Dec. 5 and 6: San Quentin State Prison, Valley State Prison, Central California Women’s Facility, California Institute for Men, and Mule Creek State Prison.
On Dec. 12 and Dec. 13, the following institutions conducted video visiting: California City Correctional Facility; California Institution for Women; California State Prison, Corcoran; California Rehabilitation Center; Kern Valley State Prison; North Kern State Prison; Pleasant Valley State Prison; Sierra Conservation Center; Salinas Valley State Prison; Avenal State Prison; Centinela State Prison; California Correctional Institution; California Men’s Colony; Chuckawalla Valley State Prison; Folsom State Prison; Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and California State Prison Solano.
On Dec. 19 and Dec. 20 the following sites conducted video visits California State Prison, Sacramento; Calipatria State Prison; California Health Care Facility; California Medical Facility; Ironwood State Prison; California State Prison, Los Angeles County; Pelican Bay State Prison; Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility; Wasco State Prison; California Correctional Center; Deuel Vocational Institution; High Desert State Prison and Correctional Training Facility.
Prospective visitors must submit visiting requests directly to the institution where their loved one is housed, using the designated email addresses for each institution. Reservations will be taken weekly, beginning each Saturday at 8 a.m. through Monday at 8 a.m. for visits the following weekend.
• Avenal State Prison: ASPVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• California City Correctional Facility: CACVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• Calipatria State Prison: CALVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• California Correctional Center: CCCVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• California Correctional Institution: CCIVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• Central California Women’s Facility: CCWFVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• Centinela State Prison: CENVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• California Health Care Facility, Stockton: CHCFVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• California Institution for Men: CIMVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• California Institution for Women: CIWVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• California Men’s Colony: CMCVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• California Medical Facility: CMFVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• California State Prison, Corcoran: CORVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• California Rehabilitation Center: CRCVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• Correctional Training Facility: CTFVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• Chuckawalla Valley State Prison: CVSPVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• Deuel Vocational Institution: DVIVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• Folsom State Prison: FSPVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• High Desert State Prison: HDSPVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• Ironwood State Prison: ISPVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• Kern Valley State Prison: KVSPVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• California State Prison, Los Angeles County: LACVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• Mule Creek State Prison: MCSPVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• North Kern State Prison: NKSPVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• Pelican Bay State Prison: PBSPVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• Pleasant Valley State Prison: PVSPVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility: RJDVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• California State Prison, Sacramento: SACVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• Substance Abuse Treatment Facility: SATFVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• Sierra Conservation Center: SCCVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• California State Prison Solano: SOLVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• San Quentin State Prison: SQVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• Salinas Valley State Prison: SVSPVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• Valley State Prison: VSPVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov
• Wasco State Prison: WSPVideoVisiting@cdcr.ca.gov