Friday, March 28, 2014

Sheriff's Office to cut face-to-face visitation, start vid conferencing

Apparently, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office is eliminating face-to-face inmate visits. Instead the will officer video telecommunications conferencing, much like Skype, I suppose.

Folks say this is the wave of the future, and I’m inclined to agree. It will help cut back on the amount of contraband brought into the jail, and it will generate revenue for the department.

However, it’s going to increase costs for inmates, and they don’t exactly have a lot of coin anyway. That will be a major drawback to the proposal.

Anyhoo, here’s the deal. The county signed a contract in September 2008 with Pay Tel Communications, Inc. to provide an inmate phone system for visitation purposes.

The option for video was there but it wasn’t very proven at the time. As the years progressed the sheriff’s department decided to migrate to it.

In October 2012, the county added an addendum to the Pay Tel contract, but it took awhile to get the system up and running because they needed to do some wiring, etc., and get everything to interface.

Under the new contract, the county vendor can charge 50 cents for each ingoing and outgoing email. 

The vendor can also charge $5.99 for each 15 minutes remote video visitation session.

Further, the county allowed vendor to increase the transaction fees from $2.50 to $4.95, so that’s what it starts out. That means, the first 15 minutes actually costs $11. Heck, what’s minimum wage for an hour’s work in Tennessee? Like $7? Wow.

(The average inmate stay by the way is 18 days.)

The county gets 43.75 percent of all revenue the system generates, which – in 2013 – was $259,959 – and that’s just the county’s cut.

The company is required to supply and maintain all the equipment. It’s also required to install up to 45 day-room kiosks.

The contract expires at the end of 2014, and has one more three-year extension.

Officials in September will determine whether to extend the contract or re-bid it.

On a side note, the video system has some sort of facial recognition. So, if someone decides to, er, expose themselves, well, the inmate won't be able to see anything. Heh.

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