Video visitation is when an inmate in prison or jail can have a scheduled visit with their loved ones through a computer kiosk at their facility, similar to a skype phone call, as an alternative to visiting in person. A person on the outside who wishes to video visit with an inmate must adhere to the same rules for visiting in person. They must fill out paperwork with the facility where their loved one is located, they cannot be under active supervision, (probation or parole) and may not visit with the inmate if they were co-defendants. Video visits are recorded and monitored, similar to phone calls from prison, and the person on the outside must abide by the same dress codes that they would to visit in person. Persons who are not approved to visit with the inmate are not allowed to appear on screen.
Video visitation is a relatively new practice in American prisons, and has several positive and negative attributes. On the positive side, it allows for inmates to see and speak to their loved ones when they are separated by a great distance, (as is so often the case) especially if health issues would prevent a family member from traveling, or if a visitor simply can’t afford to make the trip. It can act as a stop-gap between in-person visits, for inmates who have friends or family that visit semi regularly, but can’t afford to visit as often as they would like, and it’s a great alternative for young children to visit with their incarcerated parent or grandparent, to spare them the trauma of going through the process of visiting in person, especially in maximum security prisons. (Some facilities are really great about making the visit process a positive experience for the children, some could not possibly care less. It’s a toss-up.)
As for the negative, many prisons are swooning over the drop in costs for hosting video visits as opposed to in-person visits, and would love to do away with in-person visits altogether. Visiting rooms are a secured location on prison grounds within the secured border where inmates are allowed movement. They must be supervised by correctional officers who are in the visit room, and are additionally supervised by officers in an adjacent control room, which is outfitted with cameras and microphones. Most visit rooms are open for visitors for periods of up to eight hours, and must be supervised the entire time by correctional officers who are paid by the hour. A visit room that can hold fifty people can require several officers, depending on the facility and security level to process and search visitors, and supervise the room throughout the day. It is far less expensive for one or two officers to supervise the day room they are already watching over, while an inmate talks to their family on a Kiosk screen. Video visits are paid for by the person on the outside, and usually cost about $14 for 30 minutes. In Arizona, the DOC is so strapped that they require intended visitors to pay for their own background checks. They very much encourage visitors to switch to video visits. Many jail facilities in the country (especially those that hold inmates for one year or less) do not have in-person visit rooms and only allow video visitation, and charge up to .50c a minute.