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Sullivan inmates' families can now visit them from home

April 18th, 2014 2:55 pm by Rain Smith

Sullivan inmates' families can now visit them from home

Capt. Troy Brunelli of the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office demonstrates the new video visitation system in use at the Sullivan County jail. The cost per video visit from home is $5 for 20 minutes. (Dave Grace)

BLOUNTVILLE — On-site, face-to-face visitation between Sullivan County inmates and their family members is a thing of the past, with video visitation via the Internet offered as the alternative.

Sullivan County Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer Leslie Earhart said the move was made to save money and manpower at the overcrowded Blountville facility.

"Prior to video visitation, inmates had to be escorted from their cell down to the visitation area," said Earhart. "That involved eight inmates at a time being escorted by two officers to another location to visit for an hour.

"(Video visitation) does save a lot of manpower hours. In the past, on visitation days, two officers had to spend the majority of their shift escorting inmates to and from visitation."

Eight computer kiosks and web service — both provided free to the SCSO by Cary, N.C.-based Securus Technologies — are supplying the tools for the video visitations.

To participate from home, an inmate's family needs a computer with Internet, web camera and sound, along with creation of an online account with Securus. Cost per video visit from the comforts of home is $5 for 20 minutes.

Attorney, in-person visitation with clients is still permitted.

The SCSO believes the new protocol can save participants the hassle and expense of traveling, especially if they live out of town.

"The system is extremely beneficial for those inmates who have family out-of-state," said Earhart. "In the past, those inmates were only able to speak with family over the phone unless they chose to drive several hours to visit them in person. "

If individuals wishing to visit with inmates don't have access to the Internet — or want to avoid paying the $5 fee to Securus — they can go to the jail extension behind the Sullivan County Justice Center on Blountville Boulevard. Kiosks on-site are free to use for video visitation, but they must be scheduled in advance.

Sullivan County Sheriff Wayne Anderson says the program also provides a more family friendly, natural environment for keeping in touch.

"Many of our inmates have children, so now with video visitation that eliminates a need for those children to be exposed to a jail setting," said Anderson.

Earhart says the SCSO receives no money through the Securus Technology video visitation program. It was first offered by the sheriff's office on a trial basis in the fall and throughout the holiday season, and it was implemented full-time in January.

Video visitation from off-site computers must be scheduled at least 24 hours in advance. Prior to scheduling an Internet video visit from home, individuals must also submit personal information and a photo ID. For more information visit https://securustech.net/friends.

Rather than the select days that are offered for on-site visits, video visitation from home can be scheduled for any day.

"While we have received some complaints about not getting to see their family members in person, most inmates have adapted," said Earhart. "Overall though, we haven't received all that many complaints."

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