Detention Facilities

  • County Pursues Sensible Way to Improve Visitation System

    By The Garden City Telegram

    Businesses trying to stay viable can’t always cut expenses. They also must pursue innovative ways to boost income.

    The same goes for governments. Count one recent move in Finney County as a good way to land more revenue while addressing a lingering issue surrounding jail visitation.

    At the Finney County Jail, growth from a 55-bed to 220-bed facility ate up space for kiosks used to give jail visitors an opportunity to visit with inmates via an in-house video system. Even before the jail grew and consumed that space, the limited area for visitors had the lobby packed and difficult for staff to handle.

    A sensible solution came recently in a new jail video visitation system that enables friends and relatives to connect with inmates from anywhere if they have a webcam-equipped computer and Internet connection — for a fee. The Internet-based visits cost 50 cents a minute or $10 for a 20-minute visit, the maximum time allowed for a single visit.

    As part of a deal with the company that provides the service, 40 percent of the proceeds go to Finney County — welcome at a time governments must generate new income that helps defray costs for the services citizens expect.

    Future plans for the new video system include a smartphone application so jail visits could occur practically anywhere. For example, inmates could be part of a virtual, interactive day at the park or other family event.

    Anyone who doesn’t own a home computer still may log in at the jail, as the county maintained four visitation kiosks to provide systems for public use.

    Of course, paying to visit an inmate may seem a burden to some people, especially at a time of tight household budgets. But at least people who live out of town won’t have the expense of travel for a visit.

    It is beneficial for prisoners to maintain contact with family and friends who would serve as a network of support once they’re released.

    For those who still can’t afford to reach out to inmates through the new system, there’s always the traditional, tried-and-true way to correspond: Write a letter.

  • Jail offers new Web-based visitation system

    By Joseph Jackmovich
    The Garden City Telegram

    Visiting with an inmate lodged in the Finney County Jail can now be done from the comfort of home, though that convenience comes at a cost.

    The Finney County Jail began its new inmate video visitation program on Jan. 12, allowing people to contact people in the jail from anywhere they have a suitable computer and Internet connection. The new visitation opens up available visitation hours to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, up from 7 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Friday, but also is no longer free. The cost for general visitation is now 50 cents a minute or $10 for a 20-minute visit, the maximum time allotted for a single visit. The county receives 40 percent of the proceeds from the visits.

    The previous video system was installed in 2000, and was only available in the jail lobby, without an in-person window visitation system available at the jail. Finney County Jail Administrator Mark Welch said that the plan was to add seven additional visitation kiosks, but that was before the jail grew from a 55-bed to a 220-bed facility. The resulting addition to the building meant that there was not room for the planned kiosks, so the lobby would have people waiting hours in advance in order to secure a spot during the three-hour visitation window.

    “If you were here before, the lobby would be full and difficult for staff to deal with,” Welch said. “It’s like nobody is out here now.”

    Tech Administrator Lieutenant Robert Hahn said the system is a vast improvement over the previous one, which was starting to show its age after 12 years of service. Hahn brought up the idea after he found out the company that runs the service, HomeWAV, would pay for the cost of installing the equipment. The improvement did not come without cost for the Sheriff’s Office however, which had to pay approximately $20,000 to update and re-fit the wiring from the old visitation systems. The entire update took about 10 days.

    Hahn said the main advantage of this visitation system is that people from all over the world can now visit someone in jail without having to leave their home, assuming they have the right technology. He said that a 1.6 GHz computer equipped with a webcam and a 1.5 Mbps Internet connection would likely be enough for the visitations to be without time delays or video problems.

    “It doesn’t take a monster (computer) by any means,” Hahn said. “The biggest thing is a decent Internet connection.”

    Though the service has logged approximately 2,000 minutes since its inception, it has not been without hiccups along the way. Hahn said that there were some connection issues and computer reboot issues resolved, and that a known problem with other programs conflicting with the camera currently is being addressed. For people who have experienced technical problems with their visits, Hahn said that HomeWAV has been very responsive in compensating minutes and communicating with customers.

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