Published 12:11am Wednesday, October 30, 2013 The Natchez Democrat
By Vershal Hogan
Brittney Lohmiller \ The Natchez Democrat — Adams County Deputy Sheriff Ed Tucker explains how the newly installed video visitation system will work to Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield. According to Tucker, the new system will help with security, keep down the amount of contraband inside of the jail, and allow inmates to keep in touch with family members easier. Tucker estimates by November 15th all visitation will be through the video system. Other facilities that are using video visitation have seen an increase in moral with inmates.
NATCHEZ — Sometime in the coming week, Adams County’s inmates will be able to get a little face time with their friends and family.
Tuesday the Adams County Sheriff’s Office started the process of installing the Homewav video visitation system in the county jail.
The system is essentially a tablet computer with a webcam and a telephone receiver mounted on the wall in the common area of each of the jail’s 10 cell blocks, but Sheriff Chuck Mayfield said it will help expand inmate visitation privileges from 30-minute visits once a week to eight hours a day, seven days a week.
Those who want to visit a prisoner will download a program to their personal computer or facetime-enabled smartphone from the Homewav website, ACSO Jail Administrator Ed Tucker said.
The prisoner will be able to speak with visitors through the program installed on terminal, or those who wish to visit will be able to dial in and leave a message for an inmate.
“A little thing will flash on the screen (in the terminal), saying ‘Message for inmate Smith,’ letting them know they need to call home,” Tucker said. “It won’t ring, but it will leave a message.”
The Homewav system was installed at no cost to the county, Mayfield said, and pays for itself through system fees, similar to how the inmate phone system works.
Video visits will cost 50 cents a minute and will be limited to 20 minutes at a time to allow all inmates access to the system, Tucker said.
The jail will continue traditional in-person visitation for two more weeks to ensure everyone is notified of the changeover, Tucker said, and then it will switch over to exclusively using the video visitation system.
The switch has been advertised by poster in the jail lobby and the cell block areas for several months, and Tucker said a number of visitors have already created accounts with Homewav in anticipation of the change.
Switching to video visitation will help the jail reduce the introduction of contraband and increases overall safety because it demands a much lower level of movement between cellblocks, Tucker said.
The switch will have other benefits as well.
Currently, children younger than 12 are not allowed to visit inmates, and visits are limited to immediate family members. That will change under the new system.
“When they get to visit more, see more of their family and friends, inmate morale goes up, and any time morale goes up, we have fewer incidents and fights,” Tucker said.
For family members who do not have a home computer or smart phone, the jail’s chaplain, the Rev. Clifton Marvel, has arranged for several area churches to allow members of the community access to computers for visitation purposes.
All of the video visits will be monitored and saved through a central control center.
“We have that in place in case something lewd happens, we can just shut it down right away,” Tucker said.
The jail is also looking to install a similar system that will allow inmates to file complaints, request medical or other appointments and browse an electronic law library, Tucker said.
The county is likewise waiting for an opinion from the attorney general’s office about the possibility of conducting preliminary hearings by video link from the jail, he said.
Adams County Justice Court already hears video arraignments from inside the jail facility, and allowing preliminary hearings to be conducted by video would eliminate altogether the need to move prisoners from the jail to the cramped justice court building across the street, Tucker said.
The video visitation system was slated to be installed earlier this year, but Tucker said the ACSO decided to delay it because newer, better equipment came out between the time the system was approved and when it was to be installed.
“What we have now is a lot better equipment than we initially ordered,” he said.
Those wishing to visit inmates can sign up for a Homewav account at homewav.com.