Video visits mulled for new county jail facility

The thick glass that now separates inmates and their visitors at the San Mateo County Jail would be swapped for a video screen and camera system under an idea the Sheriff’s Office is considering.

The high-tech system for a new $160 million jail is included in the most recent plans, which call for a video visitation room that would allow family members, friends and attorneys to communicate with inmates using a video-conferencing system rather than face to face.

Officials have yet to finalize a site or the design of the new jail facility, but jail planners say video visitations are a growing trend in corrections systems nationwide and are more convenient for employees and visitors.

“Right now, they don’t have any contact anyway — it’s over a phone through a glass,” said Lt. Debbie Bazan, who heads the County Jail planning unit. “This would be over a phone at a monitor, so there’s really not that much difference.”

As proposed, the video room would have 50 video stations, including three in private areas, and would be next to the lobby of the new facility. It would be the main contact point for inmates both in the new facility and in the existing 16-year-old Maguire Correctional Center in downtown Redwood City, Bazan said.

Bazan said the system could shorten wait times for visitors and reduce the need for staff to search visitors and shuffle inmates around.

But visitors to Maguire had mixed thoughts about the potential change.

Myisha, 33, who declined to give her last name, said the video systems could have technical problems and wouldn’t be the same as meeting in person.

“It’s not personal enough. Screens have glitches,” Myisha said as she waited in the jail lobby. She prefers meeting face to face behind glass. “Even though you don’t have contact, it’s more close.”

But Luz Morales, who came from San Leandro to visit her son in jail, said she thinks the video system would be more convenient.

“You have to get on a phone here and it’s through a glass window,” said Morales, 38. “It would almost be the same thing. It’s not like you can actually touch the person.”

Glendale’s 5-year-old jail has four video stations that visitors have easily adjustED to, Police Department Supervisor Ben Garcia said. He said the jail staff no longer haS to spend as much time moving inmates and visitors around the 110-bed facility.

“We went from a smaller facility to a larger facility, so it worked better for us,” Garcia said.

Visiting hours

The most recent conceptual plans for the new County Jail call for a video-visitation room near the main lobby.

1,250: Size, in square feet, of room
47: Open video stations, including two that are handicap accessible
3: Private stations for attorney visits
1: Bench for two people at each visitation booth, built on an exterior wall for future expansion

Source: San Mateo County sheriff’s pre-architectural program report, June

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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