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Jails are replacing visits with video calls
Apparently American jails (over 600 facilities across the country—74% of which have eliminated or at least scaled back in-person visits) are replacing regular face-to-face visitation with "video visitation". According to inmates and familes, it's every bit as awful as it sounds.

«When Rebecca Parr visited her nephew Justin Harker recently at the Knox County Jail in Tennessee, she didn't get the opportunity to see him face to face—or even through glass. Instead, she was ushered into a cramped, crowded room for a "video visitation." She talked to him on a telephone handset while watching a grainy video feed of his face.

«"I have experienced prison visitation a lot in my life," she told Ars—her father spent some time in prison when she was a child. "This was the most dehumanizing and impersonal that I've ever experienced. I've visited through glass before and that broke my heart when that happened. This was even worse."»

And like the regular video chat software that people use these days, you can't even have eye contact. «On the kiosks Parr and Harker used, the video camera was several inches above the screen. As a result, "when you look at the person on the screen, you cannot look them in the eye," Parr said. "There's no eye contact whatsoever."»

The motivation is, as usual, money. They save money because «[ i ]n-person visitation requires more staff supervision—both to escort inmates to and from visitation rooms and to make sure no contraband changes hands during a visit», and they make money because «[ w ]hile on-site video visits are usually free, the companies providing the system generally offer a paid off-site video-calling service, too. And jails get a hefty percentage of that money». Apparently, «jails often pick the company that will pay the largest percentage commission to the jail» instead of the one that provides the best rates or whatever.

The journalist tried the software for Knox County Jail themselves. The verdict wasn't exactly positive. «The call cost 19 cents per minute and was noticeably worse than a FaceTime or Skype call. It was grainy and jerky, periodically freezing up altogether». Some features are just outright bizarre, like how the software requires your face «to stay centered in the video frame», because if your face leaves, «the video [goes] dark—this is apparently a measure to prevent callers from flashing breasts or other body parts.»

Charging is another problem, as the inmate demographic is overwhelmingly constituted of poor people from poor families.

But even if they made it gratis and working flawlessly (insofar as such software can be flawless), that's not going to address the blatant alienation this causes.

I would be sceptical of this even if it were in addition to face-to-face visits (because if it were somehow more convenient, people might end up making video calls in place of physical visits voluntarily, not understanding what is at stake); but as far as I understand this, it is mostly implemented so that visitors need to go to the jail, and go through security and all the rest, and then make the video call in place of seeing the inmate. Additionally, I also understand that visitation was previously gratis at several of these—now video-call-only—jails, but the video calls cost money.

It's simply disgusting.
When I am inside I make no contact with those on the outside.

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