Law enforcement pursues video visits for inmates in Ill.

Authorities say the arrangement would save staff time as inmates would not have to be taken to visitation areas

By Mick Zawislak
Chicago Daily Herald

The number of visits allowed inmates at the Lake County jail would increase but face-to-face time eventually could be all but eliminated under a new system being pursued by law enforcement authorities.

With the contract for inmate telephone service expiring, authorities who reviewed several proposals are recommending a new pact with an Oregon company that would upgrade the service to provide video visitation.

The contract with Telmate of Ontario, Ore., calls for video conferencing equipment to be installed in each of the 17 inmate housing units, known as pods. Visitors would use equipment elsewhere in the building to connect and eventually would be able to do so remotely.

Authorities say the arrangement would save staff time as inmates would not have to be taken to visitation areas, for example, and could provide potential benefits by allowing more visits per week.

"This will just give people another option to visit inmates," said Megan Mercado, deputy chief of corrections. There are between 640 and 700 inmates lodged at the jail on any given day.

Jail inmate visitation is 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Inmates are allowed one free visit per week, limited to two adults and a child or one adult and two children.

That can create issues, Mercado said, if would-be visitors can't make the scheduled time.

Under the new system, inmates still would be allowed one free visit per week, but subsequent video visits would be available for a small charge.

As proposed, Telmate would install the equipment upfront and be reimbursed by the county over the two-year contract term with fees from video visitations. The contract is for about $354,000, according to Kevin Lyons, director of support services for the Lake County sheriff's office.

"It doesn't necessarily cost (the county) anything — it's a service provided to people for a fee," he said.

"We're very excited about it. We think it will help the family members and allow us to streamline the operation."

The program would take 9 to 12 weeks to implement pending approval. Eventually, people will be able to schedule and conduct visits remotely, but face-to-face visits will be around awhile.

"I don't anticipate us getting rid of face-to-face visitation for some time," Mercado said.

She said the new system will be monitored to determine the manner and frequency in which it is used.

"If this is something that works, yes, we would like to eliminate face-to-face visits where possible," she said.

Copyright 2012 Paddock Publications, Inc.

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