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.