A growing trend to end in-person visits throughout the nation has had a huge impact on inmates and their families, forcing them pay $12.99 for a 20-minute video call, according to, Shannon Sims in The Guardian.
A study by The Prison Policy Initiative shows that 74 percent of U.S. correctional facilities that implement video calling end up either reducing in-person visits, or eliminating them altogether.
“We should be moving toward more human contact and people connecting with other people, not less,” stated Norris Henderson, a former inmate from Louisiana and the founder and director of the not-for-profit organization Voice of the Ex-Offender. “When you move away from that, it’s easy to dehumanize,” Norris said.
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“How you gonna stop people’s families from coming to see them? That’s messed up. I thought that was a privilege we got here,” added Chrishon Brown, an accused bank robber incarcerated in New Orleans, voicing his frustration on the new video-calling procedures.
The prison phone system is a $1.2 billion-a-year industry, according to the Guardian article. Prisons can receive as much as a 20 percent commission on each call, said Lucius Couloute of the Prison Policy Initiative.
Video chatting has reduced in-person visits or eliminated them completely, according to the Guardian article.
In some states, ending in-person visits that allow contact is an attempt to address security concerns aimed at controlling the introduction of contraband to the prison.
Many types of contraband, including drugs and weapons, can be introduced to the prison even in no-contact facilities, where glass separates inmates and visitors, according to Gary York, a retired Florida prison inspector.
“Inmate orderlies and officers might be picking up a bag of marijuana that a visitor leaves in the trash can and getting paid off to deliver it to the inmate. I’ve seen it hundreds of times,” York said.
Proponents of the new system think it frees up officers to be in other areas. In a Times-Picayune article, Sheriff Joe LoPinto of Jefferson Parish, La., said the video program allocates resources “where we think they’re needed, on the streets.”
However, according to research published by the Criminal Justice Policy Review, face-to-face visits decrease recidivism. Even though visits may be behind thick glass, they are critical to the emotional health of inmates.
“Visitation is so important to maintaining a prisoner’s faith, so important. I can’t believe they would simply take that away,” stated Sister Alison McCrary, executive director of the National Police Accountability Project. She added, “The impact is going to be so real.”
California and Texas have both passed legislation that requires in-person visitation to be maintained.
It “goes deeper than this issue of contraband. This is about money. I shouldn’t have to pay you to come see my child,” said Henderson, former prisoner.
One exception to the fee policy is Jefferson Parish, where each week the prison offers one 20-minute call at an offsite video visitation center for free. Yet there are problems with the new system, and those who want more than one call per week have to pay.
“We had to pay money for something that didn’t work,” said Brown, the accused bank robber. “I couldn’t even hear what she was saying, and I couldn’t really see her.”
There are even more complications with the new video system. A family must schedule an appointment ahead of time for the video call. They also must possess an updated tablet or phone.