Although video visitation has become commonplace in correctional facilities during the last decade, administrators and agencies are beginning to understand that the application of evolving technology is no longer an all-or-nothing choice between conventional face-to-face and remote video visitation models.
In an environment of ever-tightening budgets constraints and increasing inmate populations, video visitation can augment conventional visitation operations in a tailored and cost-effective hybrid model that enhances inmate management flexibility, operational efficiency, and facility safety and security.
Many video visitation systems are hardware based, featuring rudimentary software programs that provide basic push-to-connect functionality. The newest generation of visitation solutions goes beyond the old model to provide comprehensive, integrated, scalable solutions that integrate non-proprietary hardware with cross-compatible software that interfaces with new or existing jail management systems.
Integrated hardware- and software-neutral solutions enable automated scheduling, management and data reporting of visitation operations, while supporting a suite of facility operations and management applications.
In evaluating a new video visitation solution to augment an existing remote visitation system or conventional face-to-face visitation operations, agencies and administrators should consider a range of software factors:
Online scheduling capabilities streamline operations for management and staff, and facilitate more efficient and effective allocation of resources. Online scheduling can also reduce many of the problems that arise with traditional scheduling processes, such as conflicts and missed appointments, inmate and visitor agitation and outbursts, and inmate- and visitor-staff conflicts. The software increases efficiency by allowing a single platform to schedule and manage all visitations — whether face-to-face, video, public or professional — within a single facility or across a multifacility system.
The software can interface with the JMS to track inmate movements and schedule a visit at a video station in the inmate’s dorm or a face-to-face booth nearest the inmate’s housing assignment. If the inmate is moved to another housing unit or facility, the system will automatically attempt to reschedule the visit in the new location.
The system is also designed to reduce the unnecessary presence of visitors in the facility and can eliminate many of the negative aspects associated with first-come, first-served visitation protocols, including reception area overcrowding and visit bottleneck cancellations or refusals.
If a visit needs to be cancelled or rescheduled, the system automatically sends a voice call and/or e-mail notification to the inmate and visitor. Automated advance notification can reduce the likelihood of someone arriving at a facility to learn that a visit has been cancelled, and the agitation and potential for conflict associated such situations.
Visit authorization and recording capabilities allow authorized users, such as agency staff or investigators, to flag specific inmates or visitors so the visit is automatically recorded. Once recorded, investigators can review the visitations at a network terminal without additional staff involvement.
Configurable parameters, such as privilege-based user levels, owner-defined visitation quotas, variable quotas, owner-defined scheduling times and schedule rotation flexibility, can be used as an inmate management tool to reward specific inmates with face-to-face visitation or additional remote visits for good behavior.
Web-based public or inmate scheduling is an increasingly important factor in an agency’s decision to utilize technology.
Web-based solutions create operational and staffing efficiencies for agencies by placing the responsibility for visit scheduling and follow-up confirmation on inmates and/or the public.
Visitation scheduling can be completely automated with no involvement required of correctional staff, which is increasingly desirable as agencies seek to replace manual operations with technology-driven solutions that utilize touchscreen, inmate-initiated kiosks for financial account, commissary, library and legal case services.
A hybrid visitation solution that combines face-to-face and video visitation capabilities can help correctional agencies optimize their budgets, while increasing overall operational efficiency and flexibility, creating a safer environment, and increasing the potential number of visitations.
The solution should not dictate the policy. Your visitation solution, whether conventional, remote or hybrid, should be tailored to the realities and constraints of your correctional facility and to your agency’s needs and objectives.
Timothy Eickhoff is co-founder and managing partner of Minnesota-based Renovo Software.