This innovative, first-of-its kind video visitation system allows an inmate from the Westchester County Jail to securely communicate face-to-face with an outside party, such as a family member or Probation Officer, without having to leave his or her secure housing area. The custom-built system provides a convenient, environmentally friendly method for inmates to interact with family and other individuals with whom they have a relationship. By not requiring visitors to travel to the correctional facility for an onsite visit, family members who might otherwise be unable to visit an inmate due to long distance, economic reasons, poor health, etc, can now visit from a computer within their home or from a designated community location.
What were the main goals of the project?
The TeleCorrections Inmate Kiosk and Video Visitation solution was designed to address the following goals, each of which has a social and/or community benefit:
- Improved communication between Westchester County Jail inmates and legal representation, bail-bond professionals and family members
- Enhanced facility security
- Increased efficiency of operations
- Reduced transportation needs
- Increased inmate access to information regarding his or her incarceration, such as commissary balance, next court date, bail amount, and scheduled visits
What are some of the community and social benefits of the system?
- The facilitation of communication between an inmate and family members that would otherwise be impossible or impractical: Several inmates have been able to visit with family members that live a long distance away, and are therefore unable to make the physical trips to the County Jail. Others have made the virtual visits because of financial reasons or poor health. By providing an effective and non-discriminatory method of communication for distressed family members and loved ones of inmates, this solution is delivering a significant benefit to the community and the overall well-being of individuals who are more likely to be psychologically, socially or economically distressed.
- An improved environment for children: Children with incarcerated parents will benefit both in the short and long-terms as a result of this solution. By allowing children who are still in their early stages of development to avoid the harsh realities of an on-site visit (security, waiting lines, etc.), TeleCorrections is providing a more wholesome and comfortable environment to communicate. In so doing, the system will allow for improved communication and hopefully better relationships between inmates and their children.
What are the economic benefits of this project?
The project’s success has also been measured in financial terms, specifically the cost savings and efficiencies gained by Westchester County as a result of replacing a significant number of costly in-person visitations with the web-based alternative. Probation Officers and Pre-Trial Services staff no longer spend as much time traveling to and from the Correctional Facility, and providing the enhanced security that is required for each and every visitation. In addition, the system has reduced the time in which it takes for bail expediters (pre-trial services) to meet with inmates, thereby reducing the duration of incarceration for inmates.
The Westchester County Department of Corrections has calculated that for every 1000 visits by bail expeditors, approximately $320,000 is saved.
The savings are broken out as follows:
- $30,000 – as a result of reduced travel (primarily fuel) and time (salary).
- $290,000 - the savings resulting from reduced jail days for inmates that make bail sooner as a result of the bail expediter interviews via TeleCorrections.
What technologies were used and how were those technologies deployed in an innovative way?
TeleCorrections is a multi-faceted, custom built system that utilizes both a hardened client-server video visitation and information kiosk system specifically designed for correctional facilities as well as a web-based user management and scheduling application. Through the successful partnership of the Westchester County Departments of Correction and Information Technology, with development support from a leading IT vendor in this space, a user- friendly and innovative application of web-based video conferencing technology was deployed for the first time in New York State.
The system was designed so that inmates utilize hardened steel wall mounted units equipped with built-in shatterproof touch screens, a high-resolution video camera with integrated lighting and a handset for audio communication. This aspect of the deployment is especially innovative because for the first time, self-contained video conferencing units have been installed in a secure way directly at an inmate’s correctional housing unit as opposed to a centralized location.
Outside visitors utilize any computer with a web browser and either a built-in or exterior USB camera (webcam) to communicate with inmates. It is also important to note that if visitors do not have direct access to a properly equipped computer, they can use a computer located at a designated community facility – thereby promoting “digital inclusion.”
An application server (Apache) manages all aspects of the TeleCorrections system including users, permissions, reporting, scheduling, etc., and manages all the interactions between the TeleCorrections terminals and clients. Data is stored securely in a SQL database. An interface provides inmate data from the Jail Management System so updated offender information such as the offender’s current status, housing location and schedules are available in the system when visits are being scheduled or conducted. All the communications are authenticated and encrypted. There is a relay/recording server that acts as a session recorder for family and friend visitations.