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October 25, 2012 (The Guardian)

Who benefits from prison video visits?

Sadhbh Walshe writes that virtual visiting has become the latest craze in prisons. Many prisoners are housed in facilities hundreds of miles from home, making family visits impossible.  Some 20 states have now instituted some kind of video conferencing system allowing virtual face time.

She writes that this positive means for prisoners and their families to stay in touch is, unfortunately, “anything but a blessing” because some jurisdictions are eliminating contact visits altogether “in favor of their virtual counterpart – and private corporations are already lining up to exploit this latest opportunity to fleece prisoners' families.”

A report, Video Visits for Children Whose Parents Are Incarcerated: In Whose Best Interest?, by The Sentencing Project concluded that video calls, with caveats such as not precluding real visits, could be a good thing.

But Walshe writes: “Many prison jurisdictions are, however, negating the best aspects of the "video visit", either by charging exorbitant fees or by requiring the families to make the trek to the prison, or a site near the prison, to make the call.”

Issue Area(s): Sentencing Policy, Incarceration, Racial Disparity, Women, Collateral Consequences