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Video visits for prison inmates, families up more than forty-fold in past year

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It’s not all that popular to care about the lack of family touch for prison inmates, but numbers being hyped today by the Virginia Department of Corrections should give you pause anyway.

From March of 2020 through March of 2021, inmates in Virginia prisons conducted 144,699 video visits. By comparison, 3,257 video visits were made from March 2019 through March 2020.

In-person visitation was suspended on March 12, 2020, for reasons that you know.

“The decision to suspend in-person visitation was a difficult but necessary one given the serious nature of the COVID-19 threat to the inmates and staff,” DOC Director Harold Clarke said.

The video visits are made possible by Virginia DOC’s partnerships with Global Tel Link and Assisting Families of Inmates, a non-profit organization focused on helping families stay connected to incarcerated loved ones.

Virginia DOC staff coordinate the video calls for inmates.

“We strongly believe that family support plays a vital role in an inmate’s success,” Clarke said. “The collaboration with GTL and AFOI to provide video visitation has been a major success, playing an important role in helping inmates endure this pandemic.”

Video visitation is available in two forms. Family and friends can visit one of six visitor centers located throughout the state or conduct a video visit from home using the enhanced video visitation service. The enhanced service allows visitors to connect using at-home technology (desktop/laptop computer or Android smartphone/tablet).

The current rate is .40 cents per minute for 20- or 50-minute visits ($8 or $20). Fees are paid by the visitors and go directly to support the cost of operating the program at AFOI and partnering visitor centers.

None of the fees collected go to Virginia DOC.

“Throughout the pandemic, technology has been critical for all of us to stay connected with work, family and friends,” AFOI Executive Director Fran Bolin said. “The significant number of video visits held over the past year highlights the importance of family connections and should illustrate for all of us just how meaningful it is for inmates and their families to see one another’s faces in addition to hearing their voices. Supportive connections improve lives and ultimately, that is our collective goal.”

The suspension of in-person visitation due to COVID-19 continues in Virginia DOC facilities.

The department is following CDC recommendations as it considers a timeline for reintroducing in-person visitation.


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