By Robin Y. Richardson
The Marshall News Messenger
October 5, 2012
October 7, 2012
Thanks to the innovation of a Virginia-based company, loved ones of inmates in the Harrison County Jail can now connect with them via video from the comfort of their homes.
All they need is a computer with a webcam and Internet access.
“It’s a neat concept that definitely saves the jail money and saves the taxpayer money, which is a nice thing,” Gary Humphries, president of HomeWAV, the creator of the service, said in a telephone interview.
The Harrison County Sheriff’s Office launched the new inmate video visitation program this week, becoming the first jail facility in the state to offer direct video visitation.
“Video visitation is the wave of the future for correctional facility visiting,” Sheriff Tom McCool said in a press release. “And Harrison County is proud to be the first facility in Texas to offer direct video visitation. The new system presents tremendous advantages in time and cost savings, as well as contributing to increased safety and security for our facility.”
Humphries, a computer scientist, said the jail became the first facility in Texas to offer the direct real-time video visits at the recommendation of Guardian Security.
“Guardian Security is our integrator for the state of Texas,” said Humphries, noting the company is the provider of Harrison County Jail’s surveillance and security system.
“We’re trying to be real selective,” he said, noting the county jail is the sixth facility to offer the service.
According to a press release, the new system allows family members and friends to schedule and conduct visits with jail inmates, using any suitable computer connected to the Internet. The new visitation system opens up available visitation hours from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, expanding visitation from the previous two days a week with limited 20 minute visits.
“The visit works just like a phone call — no jail personnel are involved in connecting the visit. And unlike other visitation systems, there is no need to involve jail personnel to schedule visits in advance,” HomeWAV officials advised.
The cost to the visitor is only 50 cents per minute, which is typically less than a collect phone call, officials noted.
Sheriff McCool noted that there is no cost to the jail or to taxpayers for the equipment or installation. He said maintenance is covered, at no charge, for the life of the contract. According to the press release, the system is expected to greatly reduce overall personnel costs for the jail by making the visitation process simpler and safer for all involved.
McCool said since the installation of the HomeWAV visitation stations in the day rooms for the inmates, early feedback from both inmates and visitors have been positive.
“Our inmates feel more connected to their homes and families, and this has a positive impact on morale and behavior,” the sheriff said. “Their family members are spared the expense, inconvenience, and emotional distress of coming into the jail to visit.
“Let’s face it, visiting a loved one in an institutional environment, with the inherent security requirements, can be an unpleasant experience for anyone, especially children,” he said.
The visitation stations at the jail consist of a telephone handset, keypad, webcam, PC, and video monitor.
Humphries said other states that have had facilities launch the program include Kansas, Washington, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee.
“It’s been pretty exciting,” said Humphries, noting families from as far away as Mexico have raved about the program, sharing how it has helped them stay in touch with their incarcerated loved ones. “It’s really been amazing for families because many facilities don’t allow children inside (to visit).
“This keeps families connected,” said Humphries.
He said he developed the direct video visitation system after meeting with officials in the state of Virginia.
“They said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we had a Skype (type system) for jails, and we went to work,” Humphries recalled.
He said the company’s patent-pending system is the most innovative and advanced web-based visitation system of its kind and the only one with no direct or indirect costs to the facility.
“It was designed with guidance from jail administrators, with the facilities’ needs and operation uppermost in mind, rather than trying to make jails operate around the requirements of the visitation system,” said Humphries.
According to the company, since its launch in January, HomeWAV has successfully managed more than 10,000 calls and 100,000 visitation minutes, with facility personnel and users giving it high marks for ease of use, reliability and security. Officials said the system is being marketed to municipal, state and federal correctional facilities and is in use nationwide, from coast-to-coast.
Humphries said, through the system, they hope to give families hope, keeping them bonded.
For more information about the system, visit HomeWAV’s website, homewav.com.