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December 4, 2012 (WJBF News)

Virtual Visitation: Webcams Behind Bars

More than 2.6 million children in the US have a parent in prison and, for them, visits behind barbed wire can be very stressful. But nearly 60 percent of those children never even get the chance to visit their parents.

With the difficulties of security and the scheduling of often long-distance visits, Aiken County Detention Center in South Carolina is moving to virtual visitation. Families can schedule a visit online for any day of the week with the person who is incarcerated . The family can connect via webcam from the detention center lobby or their own living room. Richland and Lexington counties are already online with the system:

"We're always communicating, and aren't afraid to steal ideas if they work," says Aiken County Administrator, Clay Killian.

Dr. Susan Phillips, research analyst for The Sentencing Project, says, however, that while video visits can help, they can also be harmful, especially if they are substitutes for in-person contact.

"Visits with parents in jail or prison can be important for children," Phillips says. “It helps reassure them their parents are okay and can make separation from parents less painful. Video visits are becoming the trend. Children might benefit from video visits if it increases the amount of contact they have with their parents and is used to supplement in-person visits. Too often, however, it is used to replace in-person visits. In-person visits are important for children, particularly for infants and toddlers."

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