A project in the works at the Greene County Jail in Springfield, Missouri lets inmates teleconference with loved ones on in-house tablets. The sheriff’s office says this cuts down on man hours used to screen visitors, do background checks and move prisoners for the visits.
The company Telmate chose Greene County as the first in the nation to install and maintain the technology. So far, there are around 25 tablets in the housing units.
Greene County Major Kevin Spaulding says the impact has been positive with this two-year project.
"Most of the day, anytime they want, they can make their own arrangements - they can get on these tablets and visit with family and friends. Much like Skype or FaceTime works, that's how these tablets work in each of the housing units," said Spaulding.
Captain David Johnson at the Greene County Jail says it has a positive impact on inmates and their loved ones.
"Just having the ability to sit there and watch their family in a home-type setting - where the family doesn't have to leave and come to the jail. The kids aren't having to come to the jail and see them behind glass. It's a little more intimate of a setting," said Johnson.
Major Spaulding says, in the future, this could be used in other ways.
"We'd like to start encouraging public defenders and private attorneys to use these tablets and help speed up the judicial process," says Spaulding.
"We've seen an immediate, positive shift in the facility with video visits," says Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott. "Our inmates are able to self-manage their visits plus have access to a wide range of communication tools and content. And now our staff can use the time they would have spent on scheduling and moving inmates on more critical activities."
Telmate VP of Product Jeff Fitter says it was a challenge getting the system to work inside the brick and steel.
"It took a lot to get the wireless network working. We spent a lot of time surveying to make sure we got our access points in the right places for maximum signal," says Fitter.
He says choosing the Greene County Jail as the first to implement this kind of technology was easy.
"The fact that they are technology savvy... They're not afraid to use technology to improve this facility," added Fitter.
Major Spaulding says they have access to software and tools to ensure that inmates aren't having certain types of conversations - much like they monitor the mail.
The teleconference system is free to the county.
Telmate makes money by charging 15-cents a minute.