A Fully-Integrated Video Visitation System

There are two major design concepts for video visitation sysems: one for new jail construction and one for retrofitting exiting facilities. in new construction, electronic components can be integrated into the walls of the cellblock and isiting areas while in existing facilities, visitor visitation stations can be integrated into a table and chair unit that bolts on to the floor in both the celllock adn visitation locations as shown here.

The video visitation system (VVS) has long been a technology that managers of state, county, and private detention facilities wanted to utilize. The system eliminates in-person visitation, reducing the need to transport prisoners while controlling the influx of contraband and drugs. Although VVS is not a new concept, its implementation and availability have been limited and only a few detention centers have successfully used PC-based technologies to fill the VVS void.

VVS is the high-speed transference of bi-directional audio and video over various types of communications connections. Previously, the systems were plagued by video that degraded through use of I/0 Bus and shaky images due to overloaded LAN. Some facilities tried direct “point-to-point” connections, but the complexity of keeping the connections accurate became a problem as the number of visitation stations grew to more than 20.

A New System

Technology has now caught up with demand, according to MultimediaTelesys Inc., with the development of a new video visitation system built on a foundation of multi-courtroom switching systems used for video arraignment and initial appearance systems. Breakthroughs in high-speed (broadband) switching and packaged (Ethernet ATM) has opened the gates to these new full-motion designs, which contain four major components: the control interface, the switching system, the visitor stations, and the cellblock stations. The setup is designed to accommodate full-motion audio and video (approximately 38 frames per second) for as many or as few visitation units as needed.

To communicate with other state or county networks, the VVS integrates communications interfaces, allowing remote probation, attorney, and court-secured communications. These interfaces can be equipped to handle LAN, ISDN, M-PEG stream, and J-PEG stream communications. System control can be local via a graphic interface, or remote via a LAN interface to the detention center’s Jail Management System (JMS). Systems can be equipped with digital recording interfaces that can be invoked by detention security to monitor, view, archive, or erase.

VVS Cost Savings

While VVS systems usually require higher up-front costs, savings are realized over the long term because visitation is a targeted system that eliminates the labor attached to the transfer of prisoners between the cellblock and a visitation location. And, since the movement of prisoners has the potential for confrontation, only senior officers are used for the task. The largest single cost to counties and states is the operating cost associated with personnel, much of which is due to the number of offices required to move prisoners in and out of the cellblock area. Consider the recent time and motion study of a 1,500-bed facility averaging 10,000 visits per month. For each visit, an officer spends an average of one hour eight minutes moving the prisoner, an act that requires four trips-two with the prisoner and two without. At $25 per hour, monthly expenses for officers moving prisoners for visitation is approximately $270,000. In today’s tight budget environment, using video visitation has the potential to save a facility millions of dollars without requiring major modifications. And, by using the concept of remote visitation, facilities need only automate the cell areas within the detention center while adding a remote visitation location off the lobby, at a non-secured area on the property, or at another location.

With today’s prisons often constructed in rural areas and no longer close to major cities, VVS allows architects to design visitation stations at remote areas on the facility’s property-or even miles away from the prison. Depending on setup, family members could even have the opportunity to go to a remotely-connected prison and visit with loved ones in prisons hundreds of miles away.

Thomas H. Hesse is president of MultimediaTelesys Inc. He can be reached via e-mail at mailtomti@aol.com. The company’s Web site is www.MultimediaTelesys.com.