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Chesapeake jail may move to mostly video visits
[November 27, 2012]

Chesapeake jail may move to mostly video visits

CHESAPEAKE, Nov 27, 2012 (The Virginian-Pilot - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- In the hopes of cutting costs and making it easier for attorneys to visit their clients, Sheriff Jim O'Sullivan is looking to adopt a new video visitation system at Chesapeake Correctional Center.

In turn, however, the sheriff said he will probably put an end to most in-person visitations.

"During these tough economic times, we are all challenged every day to do more with less," said O'Sullivan, who was sworn into office last month. "My goal is to provide a better visitation system all the way around that will free up staff and cost the taxpayers absolutely nothing." O'Sullivan said his staff is drafting a request for proposal to be submitted to possible vendors. He hopes to have the request completed by the end of the month, and the system up and running early next year.

The plans for a video-only visitation system -- where friends and family can either go to the jail and visit with their loved ones via closed-circuit television for free, or do it online for an as-yet unspecified fee -- drew criticism last week from inmate-rights advocates.

Claire Gastanaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, complained that video-only visitation is bad for inmates and makes it more likely they will reoffend once they get out of jail. She said it can make the inmates feel alone in the world, like they have no support structure.

"A family can't have a relationship with a video monitor, but that is what they are being asked to do," Gastanaga said.

O'Sullivan countered that he understand's the ACLU's concerns, "but the bottom line is we just can't afford it." He noted he will probably be able to save on personnel costs if he doesn't need deputies to escort inmates to and from the visitation rooms.

Under the new system, attorneys would still be able to meet with their clients in-person at the jail during specified hours, O'Sullivan said. Attorneys also should be able to video chat with their clients for free over the Internet.

"The fees collected from the webcam visits would be used to maintain and support the entire system," O'Sullivan said. He said he wants the company that wins the contract to pay for installing the system.

The announcement comes on the heels of the installation of an online video visitation system at the Portsmouth City Jail. That system, managed by HomeWAV, went live in August. It costs 50 cents a minute for family, friends and attorneys alike.

Virginia Beach and Norfolk are considering installing similar systems.

A spokeswoman for the Virginia Beach Sheriff's Office said it has formed a committee to research the matter and draft a request for proposal. Officials with the Norfolk Sheriff's Office have talked about online visitation but taken no steps to implement such a system, another spokeswoman said.

Both cities have already done away with traditional in-person visitation rooms in favor of video-only systems that require all parties to be on-site. There is no free option for private citizens to visit inmates in Portsmouth, a spokesman said.

Western Tidewater Regional Jail in Suffolk lets inmates visit with their loved ones in person. A spokesman said they have no plans to transition to a video visitation system.

Scott Daugherty, 757-222-5221, ___ (c)2012 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) Visit The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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