Video Visitations Become An Option For Inmates And Their Families

Jan 15, 2014

Illinois prisons will soon offer video visitations for inmates. A watchdog says it could be beneficial. But it has concerns about how the trend is playing out in county jails.

By the spring, the Illinois Department of Corrections hopes to roll out the option at some of its correctional centers. Instead of traveling great lengths to visit a loved one behind bars, a person could instead head to a satellite location and speak to the inmate through a video screen. Tom Shaer is a Department of Corrections spokesman. He says it puts less stress on families who make the trip.

"It can end up saving them hundreds, if not thousands of dollars," Shaer said.

Shaer stresses that this is not a substitute for in-person visits, which he says are very meaningful for inmates. Supporters also say the video option creates greater efficiencies for the prisons.

John Maki is with the John Howard Association. He says it is a great tool for state facilities. But he worries that in some cases, county jails may want to make it the only option.

"Some are considering it as a replacement, and that's problematic," Maki said.

For example, Kane County now only offers virtual visitation at its jail. Maki says you can't replace in-person visits. He says you can only add options.

Meanwhile, inmate advocates say they also worry that fees won't be kept in check, making it hard for families to afford such a visit. For its part, the state says its expected fee of $30 is still cost prohibitive, and is less than what other programs have charged.