DANVILLE — Set up similar to Skype, inmates at the Hendricks County Jail now use video visitation to communicate with their loved ones.
At a recent county commissioners’ meeting, Sheriff Brett Clark demonstrated the system to the commissioners by using a jail employee to call into the government center so they could see the program live.
The jail has had a video visitation system for some years, Clark said, but at the end of 2015, they switched to HomeWav, a site for web access visitation for correctional facilities.
“That system started failing and the contract was up so we started looking around to some different options,” he said. “It’s a lot more modern, like Facetime or Skype is what people would be most familiar with. It has really been a good thing for us.”
The HomeWav system was implemented in December 2015. So far this year, more than 5,100 calls have been made using it. The month of April alone had around 900. January, the first full month of service, had nearly 950 calls.
“It’s definitely a service people are taking advantage of,” Clark said.
There are currently 12 stations (one in each cell block) and the jail plans on adding a second station to each block.
A few designated people in the building can watch the video visit live or later because they are all recorded. For both the inmate and the outside caller, their screens say that the call is being recorded and monitored.
The system is still designed to honor privacy with clergy members or attorneys. Jail administrators can watch the call but the sound is off and it is not archived in the system.
Monitoring also focuses on making sure there is not gang communication, inappropriate dress or threats made to someone who has a restraining order. The jail administration has a right to shut down the call at any time.
To use the service, a person has to get pre-approved to talk to a specific inmate.
“What is unique about this system is the inmate initiates the call,” John Gramling, support specialist at the jail, said. “You as the loved one outside can’t call in to the inmate. You can log in and be available and the inmate can contact you.”
There is a fee to use this service. The system, computers and cameras cost money to purchase and maintain.
It is free for people to visit on site at the jail. They still use the video system, unlike previous years where there was a glass barrier and it was set up like a telephone booth.
Those who come to the jail are limited to two scheduled visits a week, simply to help monitor the amount of foot traffic in and out and also to keep the movement of inmates low. The stations are in the cell blocks. The video calls are unlimited and only based on how much money a person puts toward the calls.
The inmates have liked the system, but there have been some complaints from the outside.
“If you have really horrible internet at home, you’re going to have a pretty horrible experience trying to connect,” Gramling said. “Ten out of 10 times [when we get complaints], the home connection is terrible.”
But overall, most users have a great experience and a bad call is not the norm, Clark said.
Users can also send video messages for a small fee to a person who is not online. There is a HomeWav app for those who prefer cell phone video visits versus using a computer.
“I think the best part of it is it’s a good tool for the inmates and their families,” Clark said. “Especially with family out of state.”
To learn more about HomeWav, visit the website at http://app.homewav.com/info/how-it-works.
Follow Hendricks County Flyer reporter Sara Nahrwold on Twitter at @saranahrwold.