Capt. Ryan Rickert, jail administrator at Lowndes County Adult Detention Center, visits smartjailmail.com, a system by which inmates at the detention center can speak with family and friends up to three times per week. Smart Communications, which runs the website, implemented four such kiosks at the end of February at no cost to Lowndes County. Rickert said the kiosks will actually increase the amount of time inmates can visit with friends and family while saving jail personnel from having to escort inmates and visitors throughout the facility. Photo by: Isabelle Altman/Dispatch Staff
April 5, 2019 10:48:57 AM
Starting April 15, a system that will end face-to-face contact between families and inmates at the Lowndes County Adult Detention Center may also help those inmates see their families more often.
Four kiosks set outside jail administrators' offices at Lowndes County Sheriff's Office will soon be the primary way inmates' family members can talk to them, a system which jail personnel say will make jail visits more efficient.
The new kiosks are basically an expansion of a system the jail has used since 2015, said jail administrator Capt. Ryan Rickert. Using the website smartjailmail.com, which is run by the company Smart Communications, inmates and their families have always been able to log in and exchange emails and photos monitored by jail personnel. The website also provides a way for family members to stay in touch with jail personnel.
Now, Smart Communications offers video visitation, similar to Skype. Family members and inmates log on with their own identification codes and speak to each other through video. Families can even visit remotely that way, Rickert said, by logging on from their homes on their personal computers or phones.
"The inmates have the same system in each dayroom, so they'll be able to communicate with their family," Rickert said. "They'll be able to do it on-site here at no cost. They can do it remote through a website portal at a cost, but it will allow them to visit more than just one person."
The new policy is one of several technical updates the jail is implementing, said Rickert, including updates to the camera and monitoring systems throughout the facility. He hopes that the new kiosks in particular, which Smart Communications installed at the end of February at no cost to the county, will free up time to expand on other programs for inmates while cutting down on manpower needed to escort visitors and inmates throughout the jail.
"That's going to open up an opportunity for an inmate to visit with their whole family," said LCSO Chief Deputy Greg Wright said. "They'll all get on there and they don't even have to come up here to do it. They can stay home and do it. But on the flip side of that, what it helps us with is it cuts down on manpower usage of escorting people upstairs where we used to have to have visitation. Not only that, it's going to cut down on the inmate movement within the facility -- which can become a security problem."
Currently visitations are all scheduled over weekends, and inmates can only visit with two people at a time either Saturday or Sunday.
With the kiosks, Rickert said, inmates can have up to two on-site visitations per week, as well as one remote visit per week. Those visits will be scheduled Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Family members can schedule the meetings online, which the jail administrators monitor, Rickert said. All on-site visits are 15 minutes, while a remote visit can be 30 minutes.
It costs about 50 cents per minute to visit an inmate remotely through the portal, Rickert said. The on-site visits are still free, but Wright and Rickert pointed out it still may be cheaper to visit remotely for a family member who lives far away from the jail.
"When you start looking at it at first, say we've got family in Memphis," Rickert said. "It would be a lot cheaper to visit while I'm sitting in my house at Memphis versus paying gas and driving all the way down here."
The other benefit to remote visits for inmates, Wright and Rickert said, is that inmates can see more than two people at a time.
"If you look at Christmas for example -- somebody who hasn't seen their loved one in quite some time, but isn't in town long enough to come, you can have this visit with one phone, pass the phone around and get to visit with them," Rickert said.
All visitations have been no contact, said Rickert, so the new system is not eliminating inmates' opportunities to have physical contact with family members. Even so, Rickert said, some of them have been disappointed that they won't be seeing spouses or children face-to-face anymore.
"Some of them are a little torn," he said. "Obviously even though it's no-contact, they like seeing their family face-to-face, so there has been that. But I've talked to a couple people who have come up here and ... haven't had any problem with it and the regularity makes it more convenient for them as well."
The new system will aid with manpower issues, Rickert and Wright said, leaving personnel with more time to perform perimeter checks, walk-throughs and other day-to-day activities. They also said they hope to use the extra time and manpower to expand programs to help inmates and reduce recidivism.
Greater Community Learning Center currently teaches GED courses to trustees, inmates accused of primarily nonviolent crimes and who have applied to complete work around area correctional facilities while serving time in the jail. Rickert hopes, by clearing up weekends, to expand the GED program to the general inmate population, and hopefully implement more such programs, like a 12 Step program for treating addiction and local ministries that work with inmates.
It's particularly relevant following three inmate deaths at the jail in less than two years -- in November 2017, September 2018 and March 2019 -- which were apparently suicides. Rickert said the jail has policies in place where inmates administrators feel may be at risk of suicide are kept from having anything they could use to harm themselves and are checked on every 15 minutes. But whether those policies are implemented depend on if the inmate has said or done something that indicates to jail administrators that they are at risk for hurting themselves.
Wright said jail is not supposed to be a pleasant place to be. But he hopes that by inmates having more opportunities to see their families and friends, it will not only boost morale, but will hopefully encourage them to change behaviors that landed them in jail in the first place.
"It's allowing the person that's incarcerated to see their family a little bit more," Wright said. "And hopefully will strike a chord with them that, 'Hey, my family's more important than my butt being up in here, so maybe I need to straighten out a little bit.'"
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