In a policy move first for the country’s most carceral State, the Sheriff of Jefferson Parish in Louisiana announced Wednesday that video conferencing will soon be the only way for inmates at Jefferson Parish Correctional Center to receive visitors. According to expectations laid out in the Sheriff Department’s press release, the agency expects that by eliminating in-person visitations, it will also eliminate the entry of contraband into the facility “almost completely.”
The use of prison video visitation has increased in recent years, as the technological barrier to entry has dropped and promotional efforts by major prison telecommunication companies, like Securus and Global Tel Link, have grown. By one estimate, well over half of prisons that begin utilizing video visitation equipment ultimately prohibit in-person visits altogether; at each of these facilities, the service provider often waives fees for the purchase, installation, and maintainence of equipment, instead offering the prison a cut of the costs charged to inmates and an incentive structure that threatens to emphasive profits over rehabilitative best practices.
For Jefferson Parish, these costs for inmates and their families will amount to about $13 for a 20-minute video call. Once a week, would-be visitors will have the option to use the video service free of charge from the department’s visitation center - which, like the correctional facility, is just 20 minutes from downtown New Orleans. All seven days a week, individuals will have the option of video visitation via computer and cell phone app for up to three visits a day. The policy is scheduled to go into effect October 10.
Jefferson Parish, like prisons in Texas and South Carolina that have also transitioned to a video-exclusive visitation option for inmates, cited as its primary motivator the benefits for the security and safe operations of the jail, which houses nearly 1,200 people and will no longer require as many guards to monitor visits and control illicit interactions. The new system is also an improvement for families and friends, says the JPSO, allowing them “to connect with inmates from family gatherings or other significant life events that will never be possible with traditional visitation programs.” The change comes at a time when what Sheriff Joseph Lopinto described as “depression issues” have contributed to three in-custody suicides in a two-month span, but it’s not clear what effect the addition of video visitation will have in the absence of an in-person alternative.
The new policy has also been criticized by prison rights’ advocates for the harshness it imposes upon those under custody but not yet charged with a crime; a large percentage of JSCC’s inmate population is comprised of pre-trial detainees.
- Red = Video Visitation Only
- Blue = In-person or non-video exclusive visitation
Public record requests for the details of the policy change are currently pending with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.
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Image via Polk County Sheriff’s Office