Jeremy Rohr, sales engineer for Securus Technologies, demonstrates how the new video visitation system works at the Jefferson County Jail. Capt. Dean Woolard is talking on the other end of the line in the jail’s commissary area. (Staff photo Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Jeremy Rohr, sales engineer for Securus Technologies, demonstrates how the new video visitation system works at the Jefferson County Jail. Capt. Dean Woolard is talking on the other end of the line in the jail’s commissary area. (Staff photo Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Erase the image of inmates and their loved ones communicating through an old telephone separated by thick-paned glass.

The new method of communicating at the Jefferson County Jail exclusively uses video software and monitors for such visits.

The installment allows for easier on-site access and opens up the possibility for families and friends to visit inmates at home through a remote-access feature.

The video monitors are located inside inmate cell blocks, the commissary room - or the location of the vending machines - and the attorney's room. The public access point is still on the first floor.

By adding video machines in the cell blocks, inmates do not have to be transported to a designated visitation spot on the first floor. That change is the biggest advantage to the system because it cuts down on transport times and creates a safer environment for the jail staff, Sheriff John Wallace said.

"This change will definitely make our facility much more secure," he said.

The on-site inmate visitation hours will launch next week and start out as Wednesdays and Thursdays from 2:30 to 9:30 p.m. But visitors also can schedule daily at-home visits from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. A 24-hour notice is required.

The county entered into a contract with Securus Technologies, which also handles the jail's telephone service, last year to oversee the switch.

The company installed the equipment - valued at $65,000 - at no cost to the county. Once the company recovers its initial investment, the county will begin a revenue-sharing agreement with Securus.

Securus, a Dallas-based company, began offering video visitation about a year ago and has more than 50 operating units across the country and 2,000 phone systems.

Visitors can use the Securus website, www.securustech.net, to create an online account and purchase time for remote access. They will take a picture of themselves with a webcam and compile personal information that is checked through Securus and the jail staff for security purposes.

All calls are monitored, with the exception of attorney-client conversations.

On-site visits will be free while remote visits will cost $20 for a 20-minute session, which is the current length of a regular visit.

Like the phone system, inmates and visitors are notified that the conversations are being recorded and can be used in court by prosecutors.

Jail Commander Carla Smith said the biggest plus from the system is the increase in efficiency for the visitors, inmates and jail.

"It helps all three of us, really," she said.

Smith said the old method of visitations was extremely time-consuming for jail staff given the need to transport inmates from one floor to another and frequent interruptions for booking duties. Also, the line was jam-packed and sometimes ventured out the door.

"We could have people sitting out here for quite a while," she said.

Jeremy Rohr, a sales engineer for Securus, said based on trends from other jails with the video visitation system, visitors will utilize the scheduling feature and remote access and decrease the number of on-site visits.

"In time, it will help reduce traffic at the jail," he said.

Rohr trained the staff, as well as the inmates on the new system.

He said the remote access is most useful to inmates with families out of town or for those who would rather not have their children visit them at a jail. The Jefferson County Jail staff actually advises families not to bring children for visitations, and children are not allowed to visit by themselves.

Rohr said he has heard of families using the system for brief visits with inmates during family gatherings and even birthday parties.

"That's a nice convenience to have," he said. "And that's who we're really targeting."