The Lancaster County Jail will offer a long-distance video visitation calling option for families and friends of inmates.
The option will allow a caller who is not at the jail to have a video conversation using a camera on a computer, tablet or phone from home, an office or any site away from the jail.
The cost for the remote video visitation will be 50 cents a minute, higher than the current charge for most telephone calls to inmates.
Those calls range from 21 cents a minute for calls paid from an inmate account to 25 cents a minute for an inmate-initiated collect call paid by the person being called. The charge for international calls is 95 cents a minute including taxes and fees on top of the per-minute charges.
The remote video visitation is similar to FaceTime or Skype but is hosted by Inmate Calling Solutions using its app, said Brad Johnson, director of the county jail.
The telephone system and new remote video visitation system makes money for the jail.
The jail receives at least $330,000 a year from the telephone system that inmates use to talk with family, friends and attorneys. The jail expects to receive at least another $12,000 annually from the remote video calls.
In addition, the county will receive a $50,000 bonus for renewing the four-year contract with ICSolutions, based on documents.
The Lancaster County Board approved that contract at a meeting this week.
Inmates and visitors use an internal video conferencing system within the jail. There is no charge for those visits. ICSolutions is providing new video equipment for the internal and long-distance video system under this contract.
Revenue from the telephone system goes into the inmate benefit fund, which helps pay for most of the programs for inmates, Johnson said.
He said he didn't know how much interest there will be in the remote video system. These calls will have to be scheduled and the payment set up ahead of time.
Johnson expects most families who live near the jail, 3801 W. O St., to continue coming to the jail, to talk by video.
“If you come to our facility, it would still be free. The remote video system is an additional way to have visits,” Johnson told the board.
The jail requires visits to be scheduled ahead of time, but not telephone calls.
The jail has had some interest from attorneys, who may find it more efficient to talk with inmates from their office, he said.
The remote video conferencing would be free for public defenders to talk to their clients, but private attorneys would have to pay, Johnson said.
He expects the remote video visitation system may be available by the first of the year.