- Associated Press - Saturday, April 6, 2019

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) - Starting April 15, a system that will end face-to-face contact between families and inmates at a Mississippi prison may also help those inmates see their families more often.

Four kiosks outside jail administrators’ offices at Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office will soon be the primary way inmates’ family members can talk to them, a system that jail personnel say will make visits more efficient, The Commercial Dispatch reported.

The kiosks are basically an expansion of a system, similar to Skype, that’s been in use since 2015 at the Lowndes County Adult Detention Center, said Capt. Ryan Rickert. Using the website, www.smartjailmail.com , which is run by Smart Communications, inmates and their families have been able to log in and exchange emails and photos monitored by jail personnel. The website also provides a way for relatives to stay in touch with jail staff.

Now, Smart Communications also offers video visitation. Family members and inmates log on with their own identification codes and speak to each other through video. Families can even visit remotely that way, Rickert said, by logging on from their homes on their personal computers or phones.

“The inmates have the same system in each dayroom, so they’ll be able to communicate with their family,” Rickert said. “They’ll be able to do it on-site here at no cost. They can do it remote through a website portal at a cost, but it will allow them to visit with more than just one person.”

The new policy is one of several technical updates the jail is implementing, said Rickert, including updates to the camera and monitoring systems throughout the facility.

“That’s going to open up an opportunity for an inmate to visit with their whole family,” Chief Deputy Greg Wright said. “They’ll all get on there and they don’t even have to come up here to do it. They can stay home and do it. But on the flip side of that, what it helps us with is it cuts down on manpower usage of escorting people upstairs where we used to have to have visitation. Not only that, it’s going to cut down on the inmate movement within the facility, which can become a security problem.”

Currently visitations are all scheduled over weekends, and inmates can only visit with two people at a time either Saturday or Sunday.

With the kiosks, Rickert said, inmates can have up to two on-site visitations per week, as well as one remote visit per week. Those visits will be scheduled Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Family members can schedule the meetings online, which the jail administrators monitor, Rickert said. All on-site visits are 15 minutes, while a remote visit can be 30 minutes.

It costs about 50 cents per minute to visit an inmate remotely through the portal, Rickert said. The on-site visits are free, but Wright and Rickert pointed out it still may be cheaper to visit remotely for a family member who lives far away from the jail.

“When you start looking at it at first, say we’ve got family in Memphis,” Rickert said. “It would be a lot cheaper to visit while I’m sitting in my house at Memphis versus paying gas and driving all the way down here.”

The other benefit to remote visits is that inmates can see more than two people at a time, Wright and Rickert said.

“If you look at Christmas for example, somebody who hasn’t seen their loved one in quite some time, but isn’t in town long enough to come, you can have this visit with one phone, pass the phone around and get to visit with them,” Rickert said.

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Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, http://www.cdispatch.com

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