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August 29, 2012

Prison videoconference visitation program expanding in New York

This New York Daily News article, headlined "Videoconference prison visit program set to quadruple in size this fall," reports on the latest technocorrections development in the Empire State. Here are the details:

The fledging program of prison visits via closed-circuit TV — the first one in the state — is set to more than quadruple in size this fall, the Daily News has learned. “The research shows that people will do better when they’ re released if they stay connected with their families,” said Elizabeth Gaynes, executive director of the Osborne Association, a nonprofit that has been conducting the meetings known as televisits for the past two years.

The program has been confined so far to Albion women’ s prison, allowing children to meet with their mothers. It will soon expand to the male-only Auburn, Clinton and Chateaugay facilities, with videoconference rooms added in Manhattan and the Bronx, the state Corrections Department confirmed. “We see it as a complement, if you will, to our visitation process,” said spokesman Peter Cutler. “It’ s been successful, and we’ re confident it’ ll be expanded even further.”

Visiting New York’ s remote prisons, some located more than a 10-hour bus ride away from the city, can be daunting and expensive. A free bus service was discontinued last year, further reducing options to relatives of some 56,000 inmates. Cutler said that those buses were often nearly empty, and that visits dropped by only 5% since they were canceled.

On a recent afternoon, laughter emanated from inside a cheerfully decorated room as Sindy Villanueva, 33, who’s serving a 4.67-to-12-year sentence, chatted with her 9-year-old daughter, Selena Estevec. “Just because we’ re separated from them doesn’ t mean we can’ t be a part of their lives,” Villanueva said....

Families talk on a large-screen TV that looks very much like a computer Skype window. But because most of New York ’s prisons lack Internet connections or cell service (cell phones are considered contraband), facilitating the hookup requires infrastructure work.

The practice of video-streamed visits have been growing around the country in recent years, with some states charging for the service. Last month, Washington, D.C., switched all visitations to televised ones, drawing criticism from some advocates and inmates’ relatives. Corrections officials in New York insisted they intend to keep televisits free — and the prisons open to physical visits.

Gaynes, of the Osborne Association, which assists incarcerated people and their families, said that many clients love the opportunity to see more of their kids, even if it’s through a TV screen. “They’ re like any mother or parent,” she said. “ They worry about their children.”

August 29, 2012 at 08:17 AM | Permalink


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Even though I am supposed to be for the "physical and mental abuse" of inmates, this is a great idea. They overstate the infrastructure problem a little, as visiting rooms are almost always near the front entrance to keep family from having to trek through the entire facility. And although there is no internet, there is wiring in place for the DOCS intranet (allows staff to access inmate records in Albany) that could be used. Maintenance staff could easily make the required changes.

One concern is how much will this help inmates get access to families? It is not like they are going to buy 100 televisions for this purpose and demand will be high. Security is also an issue. Will a CO be assigned to every visit? I doubt it.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Aug 29, 2012 8:36:40 AM

I don't see how any serious person could dispute that maintaining maximum practicable contact with family is good for the prisoner, the family, and everybody else. Almost all of them are going home someday.

TarlsQtr -- OK, you can quit the head fake and go back to torturing prisoners. We're all on to you.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 29, 2012 9:20:31 AM

This brings up an off-topic issue that really has stuck in my craw. A lot of times courts order women to bring children to visit incarcerated fathers. This is an appalling abuse of power.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 29, 2012 9:49:58 AM

Federalist stated: "This brings up an off-topic issue that really has stuck in my craw. A lot of times courts order women to bring children to visit incarcerated fathers."

I have never heard of this but it is probably more of a result of my ignorance than you being wrong. This is a difficult issue for me. In my opinion, both positions damage the child. Bringing children into prison desensitizes the child to the environment. Watching the wife at the next table get arrested because she muled drugs in her baby's diaper becomes no big deal. Prison becomes a "fun" place, where they associate it with seeing dad, Disney movies, and playrooms.

On the other hand, a child being completely cut off from dad (or mom) is obviously damaging in most cases too.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Aug 29, 2012 10:15:13 AM

My days of torturing prisoners are over. It is now our nation's rural first responders who have to put up with me. As my bride says, I am a "Weapon of Mass Instruction." :-)

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Aug 29, 2012 10:17:45 AM

LOL all i can think about this. It's awful convient that suddenly in the last few years..they want to keep the PUBLIC as far from the prisons as they can.....about the same time all those nasty lawsuits over prisons are suddenly hitting the courts finally!

Posted by: rodsmith | Aug 29, 2012 10:34:19 AM

Come on Rod. If they did not implement such measures, they would get accused of not caring for inmate families who want to see their loved ones. When they do something for them, it is because they want to keep people away from seeing allegedly "nasty" prison conditions.

It is a nice Kobayashi Maru you are setting up.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Aug 29, 2012 11:18:11 AM

Two additioal advantages of video teleconferencing that come to mind are the drop in contraband being brought into the jail/prison and the benefits to correctional staff of not having to move inmates and monitor visitation.

Posted by: mike | Aug 29, 2012 12:46:55 PM

Hi Mike,

The first is definitely an advantage. The second part I question some. Inmates will still have to be moved to a centralized area, most likely part of the visiting room, for their teleconference vists. And it may take even more staff to monitor these visits than a face to face visitation. They monitor phone calls, so I assume they will monitor these discussions as well. In addition, inmates are not allowed to have just anyone call or visit them. Except through direct observation and verification (somehow)of everyone in the room, how will they determine that the person onscreen is the inmate's brother and not a member of his criminal operation? I am sure DOCS has a plan but it will be interesting to see how it works out.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Aug 29, 2012 1:43:35 PM

Tarls, the issue is one of freedom. The government simply does not have the power to tell a person that they must travel for hours on their own nickel, subject themselves to intrusive searches and subject themselves to being in a prison for the sake of the other parent. It really is that simple.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 29, 2012 2:06:29 PM

ooh nice star trek reference!

i know it's a problem. I was just saying. i had not even thought about the fact they will now want to SPY and record the video feeds. another civil rights violation. What happens then. they use facial recognition to look for wanted's then then tell them they are getting a free trip to visit thier loved one and get arrested on arrival?

sorry tarls but in today's sytem the burden today is ON the govt to prove to the public they are not crooked.
which is getting harder every day considering the 1,000's of news articals that show the exact opposite. that in fact our govt has become a greater danger to us that the terrorists they are supposdely protecting us from.

Posted by: rodsmith | Aug 29, 2012 2:31:55 PM

Federalist, I agree with your main point. I am not sure how the state can justify someone being forced to subject themselves to the prison environment.


Assuming it is done in a manner similar to phone calls, both the inmate and visitor know that they are potentially being observed. They are voluntarily using the government equipment and can choose not to "visit," so there is no civil rights violation, IMO.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Aug 29, 2012 3:19:44 PM

I think it is about time that NY has followed the rest of the country in adopting the use of video technology to assist in the visitation process. As cited in the NY Times article, this technology is widespread through the southern and western states with over 400 facilities currently using it in one form or another. Mike is correct in that it will reduce contraband greatly and yes, visits can and will be recorded. Visitors and inmates alike are notified at the start of the visit that they may be monitored/recorded and it is true that it is an option for them to utilize the technology thereby making it a non-violation of civil rights. What it will enable people on a state level to do is visit more often and at a lower cost then having to drive/fly to a facility to see their family/friend. The state can see a revenue stream from this as well by charging for this access. Certainly the cost to the visitor would be greatly reduced to that of the time/money spent on gas/bus/plane tickets etc.

Posted by: dave | Aug 29, 2012 7:47:15 PM

I did an internet search and it looks like the top company in this new business of video teleconferencing is Renovo Software, a company based in Minnesota.....www.renovosoftware.com.....there are numerous smaller companies but Renovo seems to cover the whole country....hopefully they can expand their technology to include vocational training via video teleconferencing, something like technical school instructors teaching small engine repair, etc...possibilities are numerous.....would really help reduce recidivism.

Posted by: mike | Aug 29, 2012 8:27:04 PM

TarlsQ said "And it may take even more staff to monitor these visits than a face to face visitation. "

Yes, of course! Every innovation in corrections is an excuse for more staff and more job security. The government parasites will always make a case for protecting and expanding their place at the taxpayer teat.

I mean, really? You need more goons, I mean "Correctional" Officers, to man a video kiosk than you do to process and supervise 200 in-the-flesh visitors on a Saturday afternoon? Puhleeze.

Posted by: Liberty First | Sep 3, 2012 6:38:28 PM

@Liberty First - you are incorrect. The reality is that correctional facilities budgets continue to get cut year in and year out. As a result, technology like video visitation allows them to handle a labor intensive process like visitation much more efficiently and with LESS manpower. Every facility that utilizes this technology has significantly reduced the costs associated with visitation and put that existing manpower to use in more important roles within the facility.

Posted by: dave | Sep 4, 2012 10:01:32 AM

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