RACINE - Video jail visits with inmates will soon be available in the Racine County Jail, turning an idea Sheriff Christopher Schmaling touted during his campaign into reality.
The county has already received one VIZVOX video visitation unit provided by Securus Technologies and the Racine County Board has approved a 5-year contract with the company, Schmaling said.
His hope is that video visitation with inmates will be more convenient for inmates and their visitors, safer for jail staff and drastically reduce the chaos of weekend visitations at the Law Enforcement Center, 717 Wisconsin Ave.
The video units could even increase revenues for the County Jail with no cost to taxpayers. Schmaling said Securus Technologies is giving them $400,000 worth of equipment at no cost.
He compared the units with vending machines. The company puts them out filled with products, people pay for the products in them and the company takes in the money. But in this case, the county would get a percentage of the money collected.
Inmates receive a debit card to make purchases from the commissary - like personal hygiene items and snacks - and to make phone calls. With the video visitation units they could buy those things and at some point, could even pay for an email account, Schmaling said.
For the general public, video visits with inmates would be provided at no cost. Schmaling wants a bank of the machines installed in a public area in the jail. Meetings with inmates could be scheduled anytime during the week.
Schmaling said people can't always make the Saturday and Sunday face-to-face visitations currently offered. This would allow inmates and loved ones to talk and see each other more frequently.
In addition, attorneys could schedule video visits with clients at a cost, to save on travel to the jail.
Face-to-face visits would still be offered at the jail, but Schmaling is hoping video visitation reduces the need for them. Visitations "pretty much consume our whole day," he said.
It's not very efficient or safe to have a stream of inmates being taken from the jail to the visitation area by staff every weekend.
With video visitation, the inmates wouldn't have to leave their day room.
Each day room in the jail would be equipped with a video visitation unit.
The machines are virtually indestructible, Schmaling said. During presentations he has seen them hit with hammers and has been told the company actually tested durability by shooting a unit with a .38-caliber pistol.
The video visitations, except between attorney and client, would be monitored for inappropriate behavior or criminal conversations, just like regular phone calls are now. In addition, the machines have voice recognition software so the jail staff could track inmates through the sound of their voice.
Schmaling said he hopes to have the units installed in the next four to six months.