The Tuolumne County Jail is exploring a new approach to inmate visitation.

The jail has entered into a public-private partnership with Legacy Inmate Communications, a communication network solutions company, to provide video prisoner visitation for families and loved ones either remotely or on site.

Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Department Jail Supervisor Sgt. Eric Roberts said this new process will streamline safety and security for staff and inmates.

“It gives the visitors a lot better options to visit,” he said. “In the old way, most of the visiting was done just on the weekend, and now it’s seven days a week.”

Under the previous system, inmates were moved to any of the four booths in the visitors entrance of the jail. Moving prisoners throughout the jail facility was draining on the limited staff manpower, Roberts said.

Inmates will still have their law-required two 30-minute periods a week to visit, but now they won’t even have to leave their dorm to do so.

“We installed a video monitor and a kiosk with a phone receiver so they can video visit from their cells,” Roberts said.

Inmates can log into the system at any time from their shared dorm to see when visits are scheduled. Their monitor will turn on when the visit starts and the video feed will terminate exactly half an hour later.

Key to this new system, Roberts noted, is that an inmate’s family or loved ones will no longer have to travel potentially long distances to have a conversation.

“The public side has the option to either come to the jail and use the visiting booths for free or they can do it remotely from a smartphone or a computer. There is a charge for that though,” he said.

The on-site video system replaces the face-to-face visitation that occurred at a see-through window. Now the glass has been boarded over, set with a small square foot monitor in three of the four booth spaces.

“All video visits are subject to monitoring and recording,” the uppermost row of the screen reads. Visitors must enter account and confirmation information to begin the call.

The remote video visitation costs 50 cents per minute, said Legacy Inmate Communications Billing Department Manager George Lopez.

“The video visitation station allows people to visit from home if they want to see their loved ones,” he said.

Legacy Inmate Communication installed the cell kiosks and public booths at no cost to the county, but they will be receiving profit from the paid visitations.

Though the installation of the public kiosk only took about five days, it took over 3 weeks to “run wire from the communications center throughout the jail to each individual cell and drill through concrete,” Roberts said.

Since beginning with a trial phase in August, the new system has been through a round of bug fixes and improvements.

“We expected that,” said Roberts. Now, “things are running much smoother.”

“It started off very rough, the company had to do a lot to make it work. There was some discomfort with the inmates and even on the public side. They don’t have the complaints they were having before,” he noted.