Westmoreland County, Pa., Prison Visitation Goes Digital

The visits are conducted by using computer equipment the county purchased last year that allows family members and friends to speak with inmates via video over a home computer hookup.

by Rich Cholodofsky, Tribune-Review / January 27, 2015

(TNS) -- Video visitation for inmates at Westmoreland County Prison started Monday in a months-long delay.

After a successful three-week trial period when the online visits were free, county prison officials began charging $15 for a 25-minute session.

“They're working through a lot of problems, but hopefully, it will go well and will continue to increase,” Warden John Walton told the county's prison board.

Officials spent more than $92,000 to purchase the system and said that if the jail averages about two video visits a day, the system will be paid off in five years.

The system is expected to generate about $430,000 in revenue for the county during the next five years.

The visits are conducted by using computer equipment the county purchased last year that allows family members and friends to speak with inmates via video over a home computer hookup.

The visits are not available on smartphones, Walton said.

Although officials did not have a count of the number of free online visits conducted this month, Walton said 65 were held last weekend.

Three paid visits were scheduled for Monday. Inmates' visitors pay for the sessions.

The prison board approved the video visitation program in March, but technology issues caused a delay in its implementation.

Visitation at the jail eventually will be changed. Inmates are allowed three in-person visits. When the video system is operational in about three months, Walton said, inmates will be permitted to have only one in-person visit in the jail and two video sessions each week.

There are nine computer terminals in the jail.

©2015 Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

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