Detention Facilities

  • Portsmouth inmate visits to be a click away

    By Dave Forster
    The Virginian-Pilot©
    August 2, 2012

    It’s not the newest social media craze, but it could be a big hit in the jailhouse: video chatting with inmates.

    Such a service is about to go live at the Portsmouth City Jail under a deal between Sheriff Bill Watson and a Virginia Beach company. As early as next week, inmates will be able to use a computer to talk to a loved one via webcams for 50 cents a minute.

    Proponents say it will be good for taxpayers and the incarcerated, and Portsmouth’s jail will be the first in Virginia to offer it, said Watson and his partner, HomeWAV. Other facilities are exploring it.

    “We’re definitely going down that path,” said Ashley Lanteigne, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office.

    Virginia Beach already has received demonstrations from HomeWAV and other potential providers, she said.

    The service is touted as a cost-saver because it cuts down on the time it takes staff to transport and supervise inmates and their visitors during on-site meetings.

    It also gives more people a chance to see a relative or friend who’s serving a sentence or waiting to make bail. Visitors to the Portsmouth City Jail must be at least 12. Others may be too old or frail to visit.

    “They can talk to the children; they can talk to the elderly mother,” said Lt. Lee Cherry, a Portsmouth sheriff’s spokesman.

    Paula Miller, a spokeswoman for the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office, said her agency is in the early stages of considering its own online video visitation system. But there are concerns, she said. Among them, deputies give up control over the person on the other end of the conversation.

    Gary Humphries, the company’s founder and CEO, said visits can be terminated immediately if the online visitor does or says something inappropriate. The chats are recorded, he said.

    Some jails already have done away with the traditional visitation rooms so often depicted in TV and movies, where inmates sit behind a glass partition and pick up a telephone to talk to their visitor. Norfolk and Virginia Beach allow visits by video only, with systems that still require both parties to be on-site.

    The state’s Department of Corrections offers another kind of video visitation program. It partners with two nonprofits that have six locations in four cities, including Norfolk, where people can go to make a video visit with a prisoner. Those visits cost $15 for 30 minutes or $30 for an hour. The fees cover costs for the nonprofits, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections website.

    Portsmouth’s Sheriff’s Office will get a portion of the proceeds of its new service. HomeWAV has provided 26 monitors and is covering the costs of installing and operating the system, Humphries said.

    When the service begins, inmates will be able to place a call to the computer of an approved visitor. Most of the jail’s monitors will be open between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., compared with the current three-hour evening window for on-site visits, Cherry said.

    Portsmouth is HomeWAV’s sixth contract, Humphries said. Its first partnership, with a locality in Kansas, has produced 5,471 calls and more than 55,000 minutes of video chats since it started in January, he said. That 100-inmate facility is less than a quarter of the size of Portsmouth’s City Jail.

  • Inmates to use video visitation online

    PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – Portsmouth Sheriff Bill Watson has implemented the HOMEWAV web access visitation system providing face to face video calls.

    This is the first time in Virginia jail inmates will be able to communicate with family and friends seven days a week via the internet. Video visitation means set visitation hours are a thing of the past, replacing them with visits seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

    Michael Bell is an inmate in the Portsmouth City Jail, and beginning Aug. 6, he and other inmates can start using the HOMEWAV Web access to communicate with loved ones at home.

    “I’ve made some bad choices, but I miss my kids, so this machine is going to allow me to talk to them,” Bell says. “It’s one thing to talk to them on the phone, but to see them running around in a room and moving around and to see the expression on their face, it’s really going to be a big help.”

    SE Systems owner Chris Gerarge is installing the system, and says anyone with a computer and a webcam can connect to the system.

    The calls cost 50 cents a minute, and 30 percent of the money raised will go into the inmate canteen fund for inmate services. The video visitation is also designed to boost morale making deputies’ jobs easier.

    “We want them to stay in touch with their families. We want them to talk with their children, and this is one way of doing it, and it is really important,” Lt. Lee Cherry said.

    The video visitation will really be important for Bell on Aug. 13 when he makes a surprise call to his 8-year-old daughter.

    “Because of this machine I will be able to call her on her birthday and see her face to face, so that’s really important to me,” Bell said.

    Children under 12 cannot even go in the jail, and statistics show increased communication with family can only help inmates when they get out.

    “If an inmate can communicate with this family while they are in jail, it reduces the chances they return to jail after they do their time,” Gerarge said.

    There is no cost to taxpayers for implementing the video system, which will have 27 stations including the one used to monitor the calls. Jail administrators tell if anything inappropriate happens during the calls, the inmates’ access to the video visitation will be revoked.

    Provider HOMEWAV and installer SE Systems are both Virginia Beach-based companies. They have installed the system in jails in five states so far.

  • Virtual Visitations 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 January 12, allowing people to connect from anywhere they have a suitable computer and Internet connection. The new visitation opens up available visitation hours from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, up from 7 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Friday. The cost for general visitation is now 50 cents a minute with a maximum time of 20 minutes per 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 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 Lt. 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, Home Wav, would pay for the cost of installing the equipment.

    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 computer equipped with a webcam and a high speed internet connection would likely be enough for the visitations to be without time delays or video problems.

    Four visitation kiosks and a registration kiosk are available in the jail lobby. While the majority of minutes used so far have been from home, Hahn said that the department had an obligation to provide systems for public use. “We know folks out there don’t have computers at home,” Hahn said. “But they can do it all from here. We felt it was necessary to provide this service.”

    As well as the provided kiosks at the jail, Welch said that he was currently in preliminary talks with the Finney County Public Library to have some unites installed. This would allow to people use public terminals without having to go to the Law Enforcement Center, along with the overall increase in accessibility.

    Registration for the service only takes about 15 minutes. Before a visitation can be made, a user must register at or through the registration kiosk at the jail. A PayPal account is required to pay for the minutes, which can be loaded with pre-paid Visa cards available at many retail outlets. After registration is complete and a user logs into the system, a screen can be seen displaying whether or not there are calls awaiting an answer. An incoming call brings up audio and visual prompts, so people at home can leave their screens open so inmates at the facility can contact them when they are available.

    Hahn said that future plans for the system include a planed application for the Smartphone’s so that visitations could be held anywhere. He said that inmates could take virtual walks around the zoo or be able to be an interactive part of a family event.

    One thing that is not planned, however, is to allow people who cannot afford the visitation to visit family or friends in jail. This issue concerned Garden City resident Daniella Ortero, who is a cousin of Finney County Jail inmate Lorenzo West. However, Ortero said that the new system does have definite advantages, which makes it hard to say the change was negative. She said that because of the new Web-format, West can visit family in California, something that he was not able to do before. Ortero said that her family spends approximately $20 a week on visitations and that number may increase.

    For inmate video visitation system, call the Finney County Jail at 272-3756 or visit

  • Finney County offers online visits to inmates.

    By KSNW News

    GARDEN CITY, Kansas (AP) – Family and friends who want to visit loved ones in the Finney County jail just have to log on to their computers.

    The jail in Garden City is using a new system that allows people to contact inmates from anywhere with a suitable computer and Internet connection.

    The new program means inmates can be visited from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. The cost of a general visit is 50 cents per minute with a maximum allowed visit time of 20 minutes.

    Previously, inmate visits were possible only over a video system in the jail lobby and only from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Friday.

  • 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.




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