A Guide to Inmate Visitation Online

Jails across the nation are catching on to the popularity of offering remote, “at-home,” visitation. Not only is it convenient for jail staff, inmates, and family members, but it is also a way for the jail to collect revenue because in most cases, at-home visitation is a paid service.

How it Works

To be able to access remote visitation with your inmate, you must have the ability to get on the Internet, you must have a device that contains a webcam and you have to have a debit or credit card to pay for the visits. Some jails offer one visit a week for free, but after that they are paid. Others will allow you to come to the jail to visit for free, but will charge for all remote visits.

You typically have to register for a free account at whatever third party video visitation provider that the jail contracts with. Once you have registered, you can begin to schedule visits with your inmate. You are expected to turn on your device a few minutes prior to the scheduled visit, get the FaceChat/webcam running, make sure the volume is up., etc. Your inmate will arrive for the visit shortly before it is scheduled to start and once it begins you can see each other. Visits usually last for 15-30 minutes for a fixed price.

What are the Benefits?

There are several advantages to visiting your inmate remotely, including being in the comfort of your own house and simplifying matters if you have children.

Most people feel more comfortable in their own homes. By using remote visitation, you will be able to sit on the couch, avoid going out in difficult weather, traveling long distances, in the dark, etcetera. In addition, while many good people are visiting inmates at jails across the country, there is always the possibility of running into not so good people. This can be avoided with remote visitation.

There are constant dilemmas for parents who are in custody. As much as they want to see their children, there is also the concern that visits expose them to the negativity of jail and all that it involves. This can seem unfair and traumatizing for them.

With remote visitation, children are not brought to the jail; the incarcerated parent is brought to the children via the Internet. In addition, some jails will not allow children under the age of 12, 16, 18, etc. to visit an inmate under any circumstances. This is to keep the children safe from elements that may not be good for them on the jail property or in the visitation area. Children want to see their mom or dad, regardless of the fact that he or she is in jail. With remote visitation, this is possible.

In the future, will all visitations be handled remotely?

Flexibility

Jail visitation schedules are typically very rigid due to time constraints and the need to get lots of visitors through in a short amount of time. Most third party companies who offer remote visitation have a much more flexible schedule. In fact, some jails place no limits on the number of times you can visit your inmate remotely. This can be crucial if an emergency comes up and you need to have a visit with your inmate as soon as possible.

Mobility

Today’s technology has opened the doors to the jails and allowed inmates to take part in family activities. Schedule your visit during a church service, prop the IPAD or tablet up in the pew next to you and, to the degree than you can, you are attending church with your loved one. Some people have used remote visitation to take an inmate to mental health counseling, doctor visits, teacher conferences, football games and birthday parties.

Privacy

It is important to remember that remote visitation is recorded just like visits at the jail, but remote visits give you some privacy that you would not have at the jail visit. There is no cursing or shouting and you are not crammed together with strangers. A calm conversation is more possible and that can feel more personal.

Numbers of Visitors

When you visit your inmate in person, there is usually a limit to how many people can come with you. This limit is usually between 2 and 4 adults at one time. If you have a large family or group of friends, somebody will always have to stay behind. With at-home visitation, you can have as many as you wish attend the visit.
NOTE: If you are on probation or parole it is important to get permission from your supervising officer to visit an inmate before your first visit, because not doing so could violate your terms of supervision, and you could end up arrested.

Final thoughts: Historically, jail visits disrupted family life, caused tension, and were a hassle, but they were necessary because they were the only option. You can now visit with your inmate while your children are doing homework, while you are cleaning house, or while you are on your break at work.

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writes about inmates, jails, prisons, courts and the lives of people who live and work within the United States Criminal Justice System. His mission can be summed up in a single word; transparency.