Video Visitation?

Posted by Sally Pillay, Rev. John Guttermann, & Christina Fialho

According to a new report by the Sentencing Project, Video Visits for Children Whose Parents are Incarcerated: In Whose Best Interest?, a growing number of correctional facilities are moving to video visitation because it can be managed by fewer staff than traditional visitation, reduces the chances of contraband being introduced into facilities, and can potentially generate revenue.  The Ada County Jail in Idaho allows visitors to register for two free 25-minute video visits per week and charges a small fee for additional visits. In contrast, Indiana’s Rockville Correctional Facility charges families $12.50 for 30 minutes of virtual visitation, which is only slightly less than the $15 charge for a 30-minute local phone call. On page 3, it says Ada County can make $2 million over the next two years in revenue.  I assume the other facility may be making even more than that since Ada County provides free video visits per week. 

detención de inmigrantes

Video Visitation in Immigration Detention

Visitors to immigrants in detention are experiencing the effects of video visitation and exorbitant phone calls rates on the immigration detention system.  In Northern California, Contra Costa County is considering implementing video visitation, according to Detention Dialogues.  In Minnesota, visitor volunteers with Conversations with Friends have personal experience taking a series of calls from a person in detention.  The series of short calls cost the visitor volunteer some $200.  When the visitor volunteer spoke to one of the jail supervisors, he was told that the jail made good money on the calls.   

In New Jersey, Essex County makes $920,000 commission from phone calls persons in immigration detention and others make, according to visitor volunteers with IRATE & First Friends.  It is not worse than the facilities studied above, but certainly shows how the U.S. government is making money off the vulnerable and those who cannot fight back.  

CIVIC and visitation programs around the country, like IRATE & First Friends in New Jersey, Conversations with Friends in Minnesota, and Detention Dialogues in California are keeping an eye on this trend.  As visitors, we do not think anyone incarcerated should have to pay such costs as they work to maintain family connections, but to require people in non-punitive, civil immigration detention to pay these rates is an abuse.  We firmly believe that to charge families for visits is cruel and an attack on family values.  

Some food for thought and to share…

You also might want to check out this new film, Middle of Nowhere, which highlights the exhorbitant cost of phone calls from prisons and how it impacts families. It is brought to audiences by Participant Media who co-produced the film The Visitor. Also, check out the Wright Petition which challenges the FCC to regulate these costs.