ALBANY — The idea of introducing a video visitation option for families and friends of inmates at Dougherty County Jail seemed a natural one during the coronavirus pandemic.
It also seemed natural for other jail and prison administrators across the country, which has caused some delay in implementing a system.
“We’ve had some delays due to high demand,” said Dougherty County Sheriff’s Col. John Ostrander, who is in charge of jail operations. “Video visitation seems to be one of the hottest commodities due to the pandemic. Most facilities that do not have video visitation are looking into it.”
Ostrander said he expected installation to be underway at this point, but the demand has prevented a speedy delivery.
The sheriff’s office had considered installing a video visitation system in the past but other technology needs came first in the budget. With the coronavirus, the need became apparent. Inmate visitation was suspended in mid-March.
“We began the process of looking into it, exploring various options, when the pandemic first hit,” Ostrander said. “We wanted to seek alternatives. We cannot allow people into the building because of the pandemic.”
Inmates are allowed to make phone calls and send emails on a special system, but there is an associated cost with both.
When the new video system is online, individuals who use it while at the jail will not pay a fee. Those who use a remote option to visit an inmate offsite will pay a “modest fee,” Ostrander said.
Even with a fee, the video system will save money for some people.
“We have a lot of people who drive to the jail from other cities,” Ostrander said. “This will save the cost of travel expenses.”
Video visitation also will be a convenience for those who are disabled and have a difficult time getting to the facility, he said.
“They can do it from their living room,” Ostrander said.
Some jails and prisons across the country experienced large numbers of coronavirus cases, but so far there have been three in Dougherty County, two inmates and a nurse. The jail has protocols that include having the arresting officer wear protective equipment. All booking personnel also use masks and gloves.
New inmates are given a health check upon entry to the facility and are kept out of the general population for 14 days.