Sunday, October 26, 2014

County jail change could offer inmates extended visitation, email access for fee

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 6/24/2013

Technology is making the jail safer, Justin Wadkins said.

Wadkins, Franklin County detention center manager, said the new communication kiosks for commissary items the jail plans to install will help keep his staff, along with those who are incarcerated and their visitors, safe. The kiosks will allow inmates to interact with visitors virtually, rather than in person.

Technology is making the jail safer, Justin Wadkins said.

Wadkins, Franklin County detention center manager, said the new communication kiosks for commissary items the jail plans to install will help keep his staff, along with those who are incarcerated and their visitors, safe. The kiosks will allow inmates to interact with visitors virtually, rather than in person.

“[The kiosks] will be in the cells and in the lobby,” Wadkins said. “Family members can sit in the lobby and do video visitation or they have the opportunity to do it from home for a fee.”

The commissary change would involve the county purchasing eights kiosks for the jail cells at the detention center, 305 S. Main St., Ottawa, according to sheriff’s office documents presented last week to the Franklin County board of commissioners. The kiosks cost $1,495 each, for a total price tag of $11,960. In addition, Turnkey Corrections, the company implementing the new technology, would provide three more kiosks at no cost to the county. Installing the kiosks would involve another $3,000 to $3,450 in electrical work at the jail, the sheriff’s office said.

“For me, it’s pure safety of how we have to do visitation now,” Wadkins said. “There’s only one small visitation area, and we have to get [inmates] all out of their cells, walk down the hallway and put them in the day room. We have to have other inmates in there locked down. And it’s hard to adjust for male and female interaction, and [the kiosks] eliminates all that. We don’t even have to get [inmates] out of their cells.”

As well as providing video visitation, the kiosks will allow inmates to order commissary items, as well as to email family members, attorneys and other inmates — for a fee, Wadkins said.

“It takes care of commissary needs, from hygiene to extra food items, underwear, T-shirts, socks,” he said. “It’s about anywhere from a six- to nine-hour process to order commissary ... This eliminates that and puts it on the inmates to manage their own stuff and banking account so my staff isn’t handling money, and it reduces liability on our end.”

Wadkins said he’d been in contact with Turnkey Corrections for about a year trying to figure out the best fit for Franklin County’s needs.

“[Turnkey Corrections] gave me a list of probably 70 facilities and I’ve called about three-quarters and talked to many a few weeks ago,” he said. “[Turnkey Corrections] is a well-known organization and they have a slew of stuff they offer, all the way up to vending machines.”

Franklin County is one of many counties working with Turnkey Corrections to implement the kiosks, Wadkins said.

“There are six counties working together to do this, and the first county going live with [Turnkey Corrections] is Crawford County,” he said. “I will most likely be getting to go down there during their implementation and installation just to foresee any hiccups; just go to get a feel for what the installation process is like and what goes on with all that.”

The kiosks eventually will pay for themselves, Wadkins said. The money spent to pay for the kiosks comes out of the inmate fund, and whatever money the inmates spend on commissary items goes back into the same fund.

“The money being used to purchase the kiosks is money the inmates use on commissary and phone calls, so [the inmates] are technically paying for it,” he said. “We keep money in the inmate account and that’s how we purchase items for the inmates in the jail so it doesn’t come from the budget.”

Wadkins said there might be some complaints about the new kiosks for inmate use, along with questions about why inmates would be allowed to video chat or need email.

“What people on the outside don’t see is what actually happens while you’re incarcerated and what [inmates] need to have access to in the outside world,” he said. “This is another avenue for [inmates] to reach out and get outside help on their cases because we’re not allowed to give legal advice. This way, they can contact their attorneys or families.”

Visitation now is only 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays, Wadkins said. Visits are limited to 15 minutes per inmate, so the new kiosks would allow for inmates to speak with their families or attorneys more frequently and possibly for a longer time period, he said.

“There will be an ATM-style [kiosk] in the lobby where [family members will be] able to put money on an inmate’s account,” he said. “It gives more opportunities for family to see their loved ones.”

All video visitations, emails and phone calls will be recorded, except for those meetings with attorneys, Wadkins said. He hopes the new kiosks will be installed within six to 10 weeks, he said.

“We will still allow for attorneys and clergy to do face-to-face and one-on-one meetings,” Wadkins said. “This provides more opportunity for inmates to have contact with family and other outside sources, and it reduces safety concerns for any visitation.”

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