Local News

March 9, 2014

Kiosk system expands jail visit times

Inmates at the Whitfield County jail can now have visitors twice as often as under the old system — as long as they know to pick up a ringing phone.

A new electronic system installed this month uses kiosks with touch-screen calling systems to allow inmates to visit with family and friends right from their cell blocks, without the hassle of being escorted by jail officers during often crowded, and limited, visiting hours.

Officials said there are still some kinks to work out before the new method is operating at its most efficient.

Capt. Wes Lynch of the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office said a $25,000 federal grant paid to replace an old system in which inmates and their visitors could meet with each other once a week during designated times, seeing each other through a window and speaking over a telephone.

Now, they can have visitors twice a week using one of about five touch-screen calling systems with video and audio. Inmates can have additional visits if their callers want to use jailatm.com to log in from an outside location for a fee.

It’s worked well for some visitors. Others leave without getting in a conversation.

Mary Stafford tried for an hour to reach one of her relatives recently and finally left in frustration after she couldn’t get anyone to pick up in the cell block and was unable to leave a voicemail.

“After I stayed that long, I said, ‘Give me the address and I’ll just write her,’” Stafford said.

Lynch said the jail went to the new system on Feb. 17 partly because it’s expected to be more cost-effective and partly because it requires less manpower to manage visitation and less wait time for visitors.

A woman who declined to give her name said she initially had trouble getting an answer on the inmates’ end but was finally able to reach the person she came to see. During an earlier visit on the new system though, she was able to visit much more quickly, she said, and the system seems to be an improvement from the old way of doing things if only the kinks are worked out.

“The thing that’s good about this is you can come more often,” she added.

Sgt. Adrianna Medina, a supervisor at the jail, said there have been several issues with inmates and friends or family members not communicating adequately enough to coordinate visits. The kiosk on the inmates’ end is inside the cell block and accessible basically any time, Medina said, but the inmates have to pay attention to when the phone is ringing. Ideally, they’ll coordinate with their visitors ahead of time on an expected time, but sometimes they lose track of time and miss calls, Medina said.

Officials said inmates are paged upon the visitors’ request if they don’t answer, but sometimes even that doesn’t get their attention, and jail employees don’t make them answer their phone if they don’t want to or aren’t paying attention.

“We have explored different options for notifications such as louder alarms on the systems or personal notification,” Lynch said. “At this point, it is an issue where we are still looking forward to a better resolution for the families. In any case, this system is generally requiring much less wait time than the last system which regularly required families to come one hour early. As we go forward, we will work hard to continually improve the process.”

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