Inmates at Allen County Jail no longer have a limited time frame – a few hours on certain evenings – to visit with family and friends.
New technology has broadened visiting hours to 8 a.m. to noon and 3 to 8 p.m. daily – but it can come with a cost.
Officer John Wiese of the Allen County Sheriff's Department explained the new setup – which replaces face-to-face visits and is similar to Skype or FaceTime – during a news conference Wednesday.
Wiese stood in the jail lobby, where visitors can communicate with inmates from 10 kiosks equipped with screens and handsets. Inmates use the same devices in common areas within cell blocks, he said, noting they are limited to three, 25-minute visits a day.
Visitors can use the on-site service for free once a week, with additional visits available for $10. That's the same fee charged to those using their personal devices to access the service, Wiese said.
GTL, a Virginia company that installs jail and prison communication systems, provided the local video system. It also is the jail's telephone service provider.
The user fee helps the company recoup its investment, officials with the sheriff's department said. Exact terms of the contract with GTL – including details about any proceeds the county might receive – weren't available Wednesday.
The jail population fluctuates but had about 740 inmates Wednesday morning. Calculating how many are awaiting trial is complicated and wasn't readily available, officials said.
Before switching to video visitation, Wiese said, visiting hours would be limited because of the manpower required to escort inmates.
The sheriff's department estimates the new method of visitation annually will save officers 5,000 hours.
The jail has logged more than 3,100 visits via the internet since that option launched in early November, Wiese said.
He noted the on-site option has generated nearly 300 visits since it became available in mid-February.
The video visitation kiosks in the lobby were empty during Wednesday's news conference. The expanded visitation schedule has reduced crowding by visitors, Wiese said.
He noted the visits are monitored and recorded, but attorneys wishing to meet with inmates via video are afforded privacy.
More information about jail visits is available on the sheriff's department website, www.allencountysheriff.org.