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 January 12, allowing people to connect from anywhere they have a suitable computer and Internet connection. The new visitation opens up available visitation hours from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, up from 7 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Friday. The cost for general visitation is now 50 cents a minute with a maximum time of 20 minutes per 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 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 Lt. 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, Home Wav, would pay for the cost of installing the equipment.
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 computer equipped with a webcam and a high speed internet connection would likely be enough for the visitations to be without time delays or video problems.
Four visitation kiosks and a registration kiosk are available in the jail lobby. While the majority of minutes used so far have been from home, Hahn said that the department had an obligation to provide systems for public use. “We know folks out there don’t have computers at home,” Hahn said. “But they can do it all from here. We felt it was necessary to provide this service.”
As well as the provided kiosks at the jail, Welch said that he was currently in preliminary talks with the Finney County Public Library to have some unites installed. This would allow to people use public terminals without having to go to the Law Enforcement Center, along with the overall increase in accessibility.
Registration for the service only takes about 15 minutes. Before a visitation can be made, a user must register at HomeWav.com or through the registration kiosk at the jail. A PayPal account is required to pay for the minutes, which can be loaded with pre-paid Visa cards available at many retail outlets. After registration is complete and a user logs into the system, a screen can be seen displaying whether or not there are calls awaiting an answer. An incoming call brings up audio and visual prompts, so people at home can leave their screens open so inmates at the facility can contact them when they are available.
Hahn said that future plans for the system include a planed application for the Smartphone’s so that visitations could be held anywhere. He said that inmates could take virtual walks around the zoo or be able to be an interactive part of a family event.
One thing that is not planned, however, is to allow people who cannot afford the visitation to visit family or friends in jail. This issue concerned Garden City resident Daniella Ortero, who is a cousin of Finney County Jail inmate Lorenzo West. However, Ortero said that the new system does have definite advantages, which makes it hard to say the change was negative. She said that because of the new Web-format, West can visit family in California, something that he was not able to do before. Ortero said that her family spends approximately $20 a week on visitations and that number may increase.
For inmate video visitation system, call the Finney County Jail at 272-3756 or visit homewav.com.