In-person visits to end at county jail

Remote visitation system will be launched Sept. 1

Posted: July 21, 2018 at 1:04 a.m.

The Benton County Sheriff's Office in Bentonville.

The Benton County Jail will no longer offer free, in-person visits between inmates and their family members and friends starting in September, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Benton County will launch a remote video visitation system Sept. 1, spokeswoman Sgt. Shannon Jenkins said Friday.

DETAINEE VISITATION

An account can be set up at www.smartjailmail.com.

Set up an account

Connect to the inmate

Schedule & pay for the visits

Source: Staff report

This system allows someone to visit a detainee using a home computer or laptop through the website smartjailmail.com .

The visits will cost 50 cents per minute in 15 minute increments and must be scheduled a day in advance. Times are reserved on the website.

Inmates will still have access to the phones in their pods, Jenkins said, but the elimination of in-person visits means the removal of the only free way to visit inmates. This only applies to the general public, meaning attorneys will still have access to their clients, she said.

Visits can be scheduled seven days a week, including holidays and inmates will be allowed two visits each week, according to a news release Friday. All visitations will be monitored and recorded.

The system will have many benefits, Jenkins said, including decreasing contraband.

“Video visitation will allow family and friends to visit with their loved ones from the comfort of their own homes,” she said. “It will allow for those with health problems to not have to travel and those living out of state a much easier and less expensive way to visit.”

There is no added expense to the Sheriff’s Office and it frees up manpower, Jenkins said.

“It will free up employees to focus on other areas of the jail and daily duties and will allow for the safety of the facility with less movement of inmates throughout the facility,” she said.

Other jails around the country have remote visitation and it has been in the works for the Northwest Arkansas jails for a while, spokesmen said.

The American Bar Association and the American Correctional Association have published policy guidelines that state video visitation and use of emerging technologies should be a supplement and not a substitute for opportunities for in-person visitation.

Some states, such as Texas, have passed laws in the last few years requiring in-person visitation be maintained in county jails.

The Washington County Detention Center switched to the same system just this week.

People can still see a Washington County detainee in the jail lobby for free up to two visits per week and have access to phone calls for a fee, Johnson said.

Capt. Alan Johnson said they already have seen family and friends video call from as far as California to speak with inmates.

Video visitors at Washington County have the same 15-minute blocks and costs as Benton County but there’s no limit on the number of visits in a week.

Right now, each block in the Washington County jail only has one computer for inmates to use, but it will be adding tablets in the next 30 days to allow multiple people to have visits at once, Johnson said.

Washington County also has access to the system’s message and mail features that Benton County has been using since the first of the year.

The system allows for messages to be sent electronically at 50 cents per message, which can be up to 30,000 words or about the equivalent of an eight-page letter. Photos can be cent for $1 each.

Other mail will now be sent to an off-site location and uploaded digitally for inmates to view, Johnson said.

“The main purpose is to get off-site mail to cut down on contraband,” he said.

Ashton Eley can be reached by email at aeley@nwadg.com or Twitter @NWAAshton