Monroe County jail inmates will soon visit friends and family only through a video screen.
Keys Sheriff Rick Ramsay is installing a digital system that for the first time will let people make virtual visits with inmates from their homes for about 40 cents per minute.
It will remain free to go to a jail to see an inmate at any of three county jails across the Florida Keys, but as of Nov. 7, all visits will be conducted through video and must be scheduled at least eight hours in advance, said Deputy Becky Herrin, spokeswoman for the Monroe Sheriff’s Office.
Monroe County is joining about 15 percent of jails in the U.S. shifting from in-person visits through glass and over telephone receivers to video-only visits, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, which finds some benefits to the families of inmates but argues it should be an option, not the rule.
“Fewer visits to the jail means less contraband,” Herrin said. “It also means less inmate movement.”
Inmates will stay in their dorms for visits, which are 25 minutes long each. A home video visit costs $9.95.
Anyone can make an appointment for a computer-based visit from home through the company Inmate Call Solutions, which Herrin said will offer a percentage of the payments to the Monroe Sheriff’s Office for a fund that pays for inmate education programs, such as the Animal Farm petting zoo.
A prepaid 30-minute phone call to the jail on Stock Island from a local number is $4.20, according to the company’s rates, which are .25 per minute for collect calls.
Herrin said the video visitation will make staying in touch with inmates easier for many families — no more long drives down the Keys, waiting in line at the jails where everyone must be searched and having to take children into detention centers.
“People don’t want to bring their kids to a jail to visit Uncle Joe,” Herrin said. “This way, they’ll be able to visit Uncle Joe or daddy at home.”
Many rules still apply to the video visits from homes, which will be monitored by jail staff. Inappropriate behavior, such as nudity from a home visit, could cost someone access to the system.
Video visitation will offer longer visiting hours restricted only to when inmates are on lockdown for meals.
Starting Nov. 7, video visits may be scheduled between 7:30 and 11 a.m., 1 to 4 p.m. and 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. Scheduled visits may be made up to two weeks in advance.
“This actually makes visitation much more flexible and much more user-friendly,” Herrin said.