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New Directions in Inmate Visitation

Photo of Dr. Laura King

Dr. Laura King

Boise State Criminal Justice Researchers Evaluate Ada County Jail’s Video Visitation System

Inmate visitation has long been recognized as a key tool for maintaining important relationships with the family and friends of the incarcerated. These relationships have been shown to improve inmate behavior while incarcerated and upon their release back into our community.

Inmate visitations have traditionally taken place in-person at correctional facilities, but new technology has made video visitation, including remote video visitation, a reality. While inmates frequently express a preference for in-person visits, the video visitation platform offers several potential strengths including increased opportunities for visitation, decreased travel costs for families, and improved institutional security.

Ada County Sheriff’s Office has been recognized as a pioneer in the use of remote video visitation, implementing the first such program in North America in 2010. A recent study by Criminal Justice researchers Dr. Danielle Murdoch, Dr. Laura King, and Caitlyn O’Very, a graduate student in the Boise State School of Public Service, utilized interviews, surveys, and secondary data to examine Ada County Jail’s Remote Video Visitation System. The findings build upon a limited body of academic research which has typically examined in-person video visitation in prison settings.

The Ada County Sheriff’s Office welcomed the study. Public Information Officer Patrick Orr states, “when Boise State approached us in 2015 to study the inmate video visitation system at the Ada County Jail, we were excited to have an independent public service agency check out what we were doing. We knew the “Skype for the jail” concept we adopted in 2010 created a positive benefit for the public, the inmates, and our agency.”

The researchers noted several program strengths in their evaluation, including a perceived improvement in institutional security, better access to family and friends who are hindered by distance from visiting, and avoidance of desensitizing children to the jail environment. There were also some weaknesses identified including technological issues and the elimination of in-person, glass partition visits.

The Ada County Sheriff’s Office is focusing on the positive. “Our inmates now have more access to their family and friends than ever before — no matter where those people live. The data shows inmates have more visits now than they did before 2010,” adds Orr. “Kids are no longer filling our lobby and getting used to being in jail. Inmates interviewed by Boise State say their kids are more attentive during the video visits. Our facility is more secure and our staff doesn’t have to spend a ton of time every day moving inmates and the public around our facility.”

The report offered several recommendations for the remote video visitation system at Ada County Jail. Read about Ada County Jail’s Video Visitation System.

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