Inmates in San Francisco County Jail are currently unable to have face-to-face visits with family due to concerns about the coronavirus. Mike Koozmin/ S.F. Examiner file

Walton calls on sheriff to roll out video chatting for children with incarcerated parents

For children with parents behind bars in San Francisco, the coronavirus crisis has temporarily ended face-to-face visits in jail.

And while the ongoing pandemic means that will likely remain the case for the foreseeable future, one city supervisor wants to soften the blow.

Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced a resolution Tuesday calling on the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department to roll out virtual visits.

The resolution urges Sheriff Paul Miyamoto to immediately begin hosting video conferences for children with a parent in jail.

“Children with incarcerated parents already face a wide range of challenges,” Walton said. “The maintenance of family ties during incarceration is one possible means of lessening the negative impact of incarceration on families.”

There are currently 40 inmates enrolled in a program called One Family, which facilitates parenting classes and visits for families, according to the resolution.

In an interview Tuesday, Miyamoto said his department was already planning to let inmates video chat with their children.

The sheriff is scheduled to have 50 tablets delivered by Friday and hoping to have inmates talk to their kids over Zoom as early as two weeks from now.

“Our department has been working on this project since the COVID health orders have gone in place,” Miyamoto said.

Miyamoto called the video conferences “very important.”

“We recognize that sometimes people make the wrong choices because they don’t have the connectivity with their parents,” he said.

On March 13, the department suspended all in-person visits at the jails except with legal counsel in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Early on, Miyamoto said his department recognized the need for setting up video conferences for families as well as attorneys and the courts.

“We have completed two out of the three and the hardest nuts to crack for us have been the community visits,” Miyamoto said.

First, the department prioritized video conferences for attorneys because inmates have a right to counsel. But with just six laptops — two at each of the jails — Miyamoto said there was no capacity for inmates to meet with children.

Then earlier this month, the department worked with the courts to be able to hold arraignments over video, he said. But attorneys have yet to take advantage of the technology.

Miyamoto said his department has rolled out the video conferencing without specific funding from the Board of Supervisors.

But Walton said the department already has the funds.

“It’s about $20,000 according to sheriff, and it’s in the budget,” Walton said.

The resolution is co-sponsored by supervisors Matt Haney, Aaron Peskin, Hillary Ronen, Dean Preston, Sandra Fewer, Gordon Mar, Ashsa Safai and Norman Yee.

This story has been updated to include additional information.

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