New Osage county inmate video system cuts costs

Robert Smith | rsmith@pawhuskajournalcapital.com
Stewart Mayfield, a regional sales representative for CTC Communication Services, demonstrates the sturdiness of a communication unit that is part of the company’s new video-link system for the Osage County Jail by whacking the unit with a receiver. They aren’t easy to damage, was the message.

Robert Smith/Capital-Journal

A new video-link communication system scheduled for installation as soon as possible at the Osage County Jail promises to cut staff paperwork, increase both staff and inmate safety, and save money for families of inmates, Sheriff Eddie Virden and sales representative Steward Mayfield said.

County commissioners earlier this month gave their blessing to the contract for the new communication system. CTC Communication Services, of Bossier City, La., is installing the system free of charge with a view toward recouping its cost and making a profit. That is an upfront savings for the county of some $80,000 or more, Sheriff Eddie Virden said, talking about prices that were quoted to the county when it first began consulting with communication firms about similar systems.

Mayfield, who handles accounts in Oklahoma and Kansas, said the new system will cut jail staff paperwork by allowing inmates to electronically perform tasks such as filing grievances and requesting medical assistance.

It is anticipated to improve jail safety for both staff members and inmates by cutting down on the amount of time that staff members will spend moving inmates back and forth from the “pods” where they are incarcerated to visitation rooms. Once the new system is installed, Virden anticipates that even when family members physically visit the jail, they will communicate with their loved ones via video link.

“If you look at the manpower we're going to save and the possibility of people getting hurt, to me it is a step forward,” Virden said.

He hopes the system will also encourage families to save money on gasoline and other items necessary for trips to the jail. Remote video visits will make that possible.

In a brief follow-up interview Tuesday, Virden told of discussing the new system with the wife and children of an inmate.

“They were excited to hear it was coming,” he said.

Mayfield said the video communication service will be available in the booking area, and in each pod where inmates live, and there will be a roll-around or portable unit. The new system will also be able to interface with the commissary menu, he said.

Inmates will be able to use the system to set up local visits, where families actually visit the jail, Mayfield said. Families of inmates will be the ones to schedule remote video visits, he said. To use the system for family visits with inmates, the families will have to set up accounts to pay the 50-cent-per-minute charge, he said.

All video visitations will be recorded for the life of the contract, Mayfield said. Inmates will know of the recording, just as they are made aware now of phone call recording, he said.

“We don't erase any calls or let them slip away to free up space” he said.

Any inmate who intentionally damages or “tears up” an element of the system will be held responsible, Virden said.

“If they tear it up, we'll charge them with destruction of property” the sheriff said, adding that any inmates responsible for such damage will be required to reimburse CTC Communication Services.

Mayfield said there has been very little trouble in other jails with inmates damaging the equipment. He attributes that, at least in part, to inmates knowing they will likely anger their fellow prisoners by damaging the system that allows communication with families.

The contract between Osage County and CTC also includes an upgrade of the remote hearing facility that is already in place in the Osage County Jail, so that a judge at the courthouse can hold a hearing for an inmate without the inmate being moved from the jail to the courthouse. The upgraded system will provide a better experience for the judge and the inmates, Mayfield said.

The contract also calls for the county to receive a 20-percent commission on system revenues, he said.