Sheriff Donny Turner told county commissioners Friday he plans to install a video visitation system under a $320,000 contract with VizNox in Westminster, Colo., and also put laptop computers in every patrol car so deputies don’t have to spend so much time on paperwork.
Neither plan will cost taxpayers, but will be financed through increased user fees for inmate telephone calls and drug arrest property forfeitures, Turner said.
Friends and family members will be able to schedule and visit inmates on a 17-inch screen from anywhere in the country as long as they have a computer with Internet access and a webcam. If not, visitors can go to a small building with 10 cubicles beside the jail parking lot.
The building already has been constructed and wired, and Turner plans to spend two to three weeks informing visitors about the new policy.
There won’t be any more visitation inside the jail building. Turner said an estimated 10 percent to 15 percent of visitors “are trying to bring something illegal or improper” to an inmate such as letters with marijuana behind the stamps, smoking devices and food.
The jail gets about 23,000 visitors each year and “it takes a lot of time to process them and make sure they’re on the visitors list,” Turner said.
“We like to call ourselves ‘the iPhone of Corrections,’ ” VizNox sales agent Vince Laurita said, noting that the system also will provided for video arraignments and first-appearance hearings, eliminating the need to take inmates to court.
The system already has been deployed at the Fulton County Jail.
“You can go to the Fulton County Jail and visit an inmate in Troup County if you don’t have a computer,” he said.
He said the computers were built to withstand any abuse from inmates or visitors.
“It will eliminate inmate movements, visitation management and manpower, all of which will enhance security at the jail,” Laurita said.
Meanwhile, patrol cars will be equipped with laptop computers and printers beginning early next year, allowing offficers to write incident and accident reports, issue printouts of a traffic citations, and do criminal checks on motorists and their vehicles without having to go through the 911 Emergency Communications Center. The officer’s signature will automatically be printed on the citation.
“It will allow sheriff’s deputies to stay in the field longer instead of being in the office doing paperwork,” said Shawn Witmer, a sales agent for Synergistic Softare Inc. in Villa Rica.
The equipment will cost about $125,000, but will be “a tremendous cost-saving” for the sheriff’s department, Witmer said.
“I don’t think I could be a deputy in this day and time,” County Manager Mike Dobbs said.
Added Commissioner Ken Smith: “It’s a long way from a stick and a flashlight.”
Joel Martin can be reached at jmartin @lagrange news.com or (706) 884-7311, Ext. 235.