Inmates, families adapting to video visitation | SteamboatToday.com

Inmates, families adapting to video visitation

— The Routt County Jail is slowly getting inmates and visitors accustomed to a new video visitation system.

Jail Lt. Michelle Richardson said that, so far, there have been about 25 successful visits since the system was launched July 6.

"We have been able to connect inmates with loved ones from out of state," Richardson said.

That includes two inmates who have been able to have video visitations with their children.

"That was a real positive attribute," Richardson said. "It really helps keep the inmates healthy to be able to connect with their loved ones and know their children are well."

On July 6, the Routt County Jail began transitioning from in-person visits and contracted with Securus Technologies to offer remote video conferencing. Routt County contributed $30,000 for the system, and Securus contributed about $70,000.

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For an introductory period, Securus is charging $5 for a 20-minute session, after which it will charge $12.99 for a 20-minute session.

Those who cannot pay still can go to the jail and use a video conferencing unit there Wednesdays and Saturdays. Visitation times can be reserved through the Securus website.

Inmates can still also communicate over the phone.

Richardson said using the video conferencing system would free up man hours formerly dedicated to managing in-person visits. She also said the new system would be convenient for inmates, because their loved ones would no longer have to travel to the jail for visitations.

A contract shows Routt County is collecting a 30-percent commission on fees charged to people using the new video visitation system at the Routt County Jail.

The fees and commissions are commonplace at jails and prisons across the country, and they have come under fire from the users, as well as as prisoner advocacy groups.

Richardson said the Routt County Jail would not use its commissions to pay for jail operations.

"We're not out to make money," she said. "We're out to provide a service to the citizens."

Richardson said the commission revenue will go into the jail's inmate fund. By state statute, that money can only be used for certain things, she said.

In the past, with commissions from telephone services provided by Securus, the jail has purchased things such as GED and motivational books and paid for tutors.

In a March news release, Securus Technologies announced that, more than the past 10 years, their company has paid out $1.3 billion in commissions to jails, prisons, state, county and local governments.

The news release was in response to a crackdown by the Federal Communications Commission, which has enacted rules that regulate the commissions and fees related to telephone calls.

According to the Huffington Post, Securus made $114.6 million in profit on $404.6 in revenue in 2014.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland