Five people were arrested for protesting jail video visitation in Durham, N.C.
The Inside-Outside Alliance members demonstrated at a county commission meeting, according to an article by Virginia Bridges for the community news website, newsobservers.com.
“We don’t have confidence we will be able to keep (Sheriff Mike Andrews) from making it video only,” said one of those arrested, Joe Stapleton, 27, youth pastor at Cornerstone Community Church.
The five were charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and inciting a riot, all misdemeanors, the March 18 story noted.
Pastor Stapleton, Rann Bar-On, a Duke University math professor, and some students were charged and released on a $1,500 unsecured bond.
Sheriff Andrews’s office reported plans to launch a pilot program, in which visitors would meet with the inmates via a video monitor in the jail’s lobby.
Sheriff Andrews plans to use a hybrid approach that will include both video and in-person visits, Brian Jones, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, wrote in an email.
Tamara Gibbs, sheriff’s office spokeswoman, added in an email, there are two options for video-visiting, one the person can visit with his or her own computer or mobile device, the other the person goes to the facility and communicates with the inmate via a screen.
These forms of communication typically have user fees, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit.
The sheriff’s office has yet to decide if they will offer remote visits or charge for them. Bernadette Rabuy, senior policy analyst with the Prison Policy Initiative, said more county jails are moving toward video visitation, while prisons, state and federal, are offering both in-person and video options.
Inside-Outside Alliance members said they decided to interrupt the Durham County commissioners’ meeting by reading inmates’ letters because they don’t think Sheriff Andrews is accessible and this was their best way to raise awareness.
From 2015 to 2016 visitation at the jail dropped from 29,770 to 15,201. The detention staff hasn’t explored why this occurred, Gibbs said.
Some county leaders fear that the video visits could become the inmates’ only connection to the outside world.
The sheriff’s office has been creating infrastructure to facilitate video visiting. In 2015 and 2016 the jail moved to an online scheduling system, which can be accessed through a kiosk in the jail lobby.
Wendy Jacobs, Durham County chairwoman, said she and other commissioners don’t support ending in-person visits. In general, the county commissioners have no direct control over the sheriff’s office, which oversees the jail, beyond approving the flow of county money to the agency.
Sheriff Andrews told Jacobs he wasn’t ending in-person visits, but video presentation will be an option for the future, according to the article.
Inside-Outside Alliance has a website called Amplify Voices Inside, which publishes letters, statements and surveys from people in Durham County jail.
The group has protested jail conditions, health care access, the quality of food and is demanding a community inspection of the jail.