(EDITED 1/31/2014 12:15pm)
I discovered that visits have been reduced to one 30 minute visit/prisoner today when I went to visit someone at the jail, and my heart sank. This reduction in visits to only one 30-minute visit each week (and a max of 2 visitors) must have been devastating for prisoners and their loved ones when it went into effect - still is, I would bet. I hope people are grieving this policy and sue over it, especially since the mail policy still only allows for postcards - no letters are allowed in unless they qualify as legal mail. That means no paperwork about one's medications, or one's rights while incarcerated, or issues related to one's case unless a lawyer sends it. They don't even allow letters from children, or cute pencil drawings on the postcards. It's bad enough to do that to someone who has been convicted of a crime - but, as Kelly Flood from the AZ ACLU said:
"It seems particularly unjust and unfortunate when we’re talking about pre-sentence detainees,” Flood said. “For those folks to be completely deprived of their families’ visitation, it’s unjust and unfortunate and dehumanizing."
Many are trapped in pre-trial custody just because they can't afford bail, not because they are necessarily more dangerous or guilty or evil than those who are free pending trial. Do you know how hard it is to defned yourself when all the information you can get from the outside world is what Sheriff Joe allows on the TV screen and what you can get from a postcard?
So many folks in the general public say criminals shouldn't have the right to visits, that it's a privilege for the law-abiding that they don't deserve, but maintaining family connections is critical to mitigate the harm that incarceration does to the imprisoned as well as their loved ones, like their kids, who are undoubtedly being hurt by losing contact with their parents.
This visitation restriction is probably also pretty hard on the mentally ill being held in solitary confinement, getting only more disturbed the more they're isolated, abused, and separated from support. Evidence-based practice suggests that visitation and close family/community ties are critical for helping prisoners succeed once back in the community...unfortunately, the MCSO doesn't abide by contemporary professional corrections practices, as we can all see.
So not only is cutting everyone to a single 30-minute visit cruel to people who haven't even been convicted yet, it's really dumb on crime as far as those who have been. It certainly isn't "fair" to hurt everyone equally, which is the justification for cutting back visitation where there shouldn't be any disruption of the visitation areas for these kiosks to be installed. It's simply justifying being abusive to more prisoners than he really has to be hurting, that's all.
For those of you looking for current jail policies and info for families, here they are (effective December 1, 2013). If the link is broken, its probably outdated, so head to the MCSO main website.
THE POSTCARD-ONLY POLICY WAS FOUND UNCONSTITUTIONAL IN OREGON, AS IT VIOLATES THE 1ST AMENDMENT RIGHTS OF PRISONERS AS WELL AS THOSE WHO WRITE TO THEM FROM THE FREE WORLD (that means people like me have standing to sue if MCSO rejects my letters...).
MCSO to allow video jail visits – for a price
The Republic | azcentral.com Tue Dec 10, 2013 10:58 PM
The high-tech system, which will be the largest of its kind in the country, according to the manufacturer, will let family and friends anywhere in the world talk with inmates via video, so long as they have access to a computer with a camera and a credit card to pay $12.95 for a 20-minute conversation.
The system, which is expected to be in place early next summer, is meant to make visits easier and improve security at the county jails, which book 100,000 people every year. But as work begins on installing the Internet-based system, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office cut regular visiting time from three hours per week to 30 minutes.
Although sheriff’s officials say the system will make visiting inmates easier, it’s not being welcomed by prisoner-rights advocates. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona criticized MCSO for planning to eliminate face-to-face visits at its Towers, Estrella and Durango jails because it could mean fewer people have access to inmates.
Visitors to the county’s other three jails communicate with inmates through closed-circuit video accessible at terminals inside jail lobbies.
ACLU senior staff attorney Kelly Flood said the need for people to have access to a video-enabled computer to visit with an inmate would make it harder for some families and prevent people like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who eschews technology and relies on a typewriter, from having a virtual visit with an inmate in his jails.
The vast majority of jail inmates have not been sentenced for their crimes, she said, and many remain in custody because their friends and family members cannot afford to bail them out.
“They’re making it harder and harder. It seems particularly unjust and unfortunate when we’re talking about pre-sentence detainees,” Flood said. “For those folks to be completely deprived of their families’ visitation, it’s unjust and unfortunate and dehumanizing.”
The $2.6 million system, which the manufacturer is installing at no cost to Maricopa County, will also turn into a money maker for the Sheriff’s Office once it gets paid off and the agency starts to receive a 10 percent cut of the fee paid for every conversation.
The sheriff’s share, which would average more than $300,000 each year if the agency maintained its current visitation rate, is designated to go into the Inmate Services Fund, a pool earmarked for drug-rehabilitation programs and other services for inmates.
The Sheriff’s Office has come under scrutiny in the past for using the inmate funds, which topped $12 million in fiscal 2012, to pay for deputies who didn’t work in the jails, a violation of county policy.
State leaders have also swept those funds in the past to help balance the budget.
Both the Sheriff’s Office and the system’s manufacturer expect jail visits to increase once the system is in place, because friends and family will have virtually unlimited access to inmates from anywhere with a reliable Internet connection.
“You can use this system in China, Russia, on the moon, wherever they have an Internet system, including airplanes,” Arpaio said.
Other agencies in Arizona that have converted to video-visitation systems have seen an increase in visitors after inmates’ friends and family members became familiar with navigating the software and comfortable with paying a fee for each visit.
Pinal County opened its video-visitation system in April, and inmates have received more than 15,000 video visits in the first eight months. The agency still allows on-site visits and averages slightly more than 1,500 each month.
Apache County used the same company installing Maricopa County’s system and launched video visitation about six weeks ago. The jails have seen an increase in visitation, in addition to providing an opportunity for out-of-state inmates who were arrested for motor-vehicle violations on Interstate 40 to see family members from their home states and countries, Apache County sheriff’s Cmdr. Michael Cirivello said.
The system has allowed the jail to expand visiting hours from one day per week, with a maximum of 30 minutes, to five days a week with inmates receiving as many visits as their friends and relatives are willing to pay for, he said.
Apache County, which stretches 200 miles, also has inmates whose relatives find it cheaper to pay the $20 fee for a 20-minute video conversation than to drive to the facility in St. Johns, Cirivello said.
“I had one guy in here who got a visit from Okinawa (Japan),” he said. “And the people that get visited a lot, they’re getting visits every day now, sometimes a couple times a day.”
Three of the six Maricopa County jail facilities have used video systems for several years that allow visitors to meet with inmates through kiosks set up in the jail lobby and mobile units that detention officers move around to inmates’ cells. The other three jails still offer face-to-face visits, but the visiting hours were reduced systemwide in an attempt to be fair, sheriff’s Deputy Chief Mike Olson said.
Once the new system is installed, visitors will have to register through Securus Technologies’ website and wait for sheriff’s investigators to conduct a background check to ensure the visitors are not felons.
After the visitor is approved, he or she can schedule a visit with an inmate 24 hours in advance and engage in the virtual visitation from any computer with a camera.
The virtual visitation system will present some hurdles for detention officers intent on keeping felons from visiting inmates, which is possible if a non-felon registers for a visit and a felon sits down in his place, but sheriff’s officials said visitors would be barred if they were discovered attempting to game the system.
A Securus representative said he hoped the prospects of easy virtual visitation would dissuade criminals from engaging in any illicit activity.
“We believe $12.95 and their visitation rights to visit in the future are on the line, and they’re not going to game the system,” said Darrin Hays, a Securus account manager. “We believe they’re going to say, ‘There’s value in this, and we just want to get our visits.’ ”
But the advent of virtual visitation also means the Sheriff’s Office will likely have to abandon its long-standing and highly promoted policy that prohibits undocumented immigrants from visiting inmates in Maricopa County jails.
As the system is accessible from anywhere in the world, Hays said, the visitor’s residency status in the United States or any other country should become irrelevant.
“What this really does is promote the relationship with the community,” Hays said. “If I’m here illegally, I don’t think I want to step into the jail, and famously, Arpaio’s jail. So, what can I do? I can actually get online, and I can at least apply. If I’m denied, I’m denied. They can’t find me, I’m on an Internet connection.
“You don’t know where they’re visiting from, so you really can’t say they’re here illegally.”