Champaign County Jail offers digital visitation

By Brittney Nadler

Champaign County Jail inmates will now communicate with friends and family through a video screen as the county discontinues the practice of in-person visitations.

Following suit with jails in neighboring counties, the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office began using a virtual visitation system in mid-February. Capt. Shane Cook, of the Sheriff’s Office, said the new system has yet to receive negative feedback. It will also allow inmates to send and receive emails.

“They’ve never had that before,” Cook said.

Inmates have between 8:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. to conduct visits — excluding two personnel shift changes during the day — and most are allowed two 20-minute visits a week. Inmates were previously allotted the same amount of time for in-person visitations, but the visits could only take place during designated hours throughout the week. 

“What I find a lot of times with visits in person is it limits the window,” Cook said. 

While officials are still figuring out restrictions, personnel such as attorneys are still allowed to visit in person. Visits must be scheduled at least 24 hours in advance and no more than one adult and one child are allowed in the video visitation booths at the satellite jail at once, according to the Champaign County Jail website. 

A visitor can initiate a virtual visitation from home, but there is a $10 fee, whereas a visit through the video booths at the satellite jail is free.

Kane County Jail implemented virtual visitation about a year ago, said Corey Hunger, Kane County Sheriff’s Office Commander of Corrections. 

“It seems to be working fine,” Hunger said. “They’re actually looking to do some upgrades over the next few weeks to allow us to also have visitation with our public defender’s office.”

The upgrade would allow public defenders to virtually visit inmates from their offices. 

Kane County no longer allows in-person visitation, and Hunger also said there has been no negative feedback. Exceptions to this rule include certain personnel, such as attorneys and religious leaders, Hunger said. 

The only weakness Hunger can see in the new process is the arrangement of visitations, not the system itself. 

“They have to basically take responsibility for arranging the visitation with their family where before it was primarily a function of the personnel that we had here working at the jail,” he said. “We had to put all this on them and their family to get everything scheduled by communicating with each other.”

Macon County Jail has been using virtual visitation for more than a decade and is very pleased with the system, said Macon County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Antonio Brown. He described feedback as “very, very positive.” 

After providing a list of people who can visit, detainees in Macon County are allowed virtual visits from Sunday to Thursday between 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a break from 2 to 3 p.m. due to a shift change, Brown said.

“It’s a lot more cost-effective,” Brown said. “You don’t actually have to have officers to take the detainee to a certain area to conduct a visit, and also it’s not a safety issue because you don’t have as much movement.”

Brown said the subjects use a telephone and monitor in front of them where they are allowed to talk to friends and family for 15 minutes. In certain situations, inmates can record the visits and burn them to a DVD to be watched later. 

Macon County Jail only allows in-person visits for authorized personnel, including attorneys and social services, Brown said. 

“(Champaign County) did their research, and I think they definitely will enjoy it,” Brown said. “As far as cost effectiveness, officers, safety issues, I think they’d be very pleased with it.”

Brittney can be reached at [email protected]