Technology coming to Mecklenburg County Jail

Technology coming to Mecklenburg County Jail

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael is embracing technology as his office changes its inmate visitation rules. There will be no more in-person visitations, except for inmate's lawyers.

Family and friends must now go to another facility and communicate with their relatives by way of video for free.

Vanessa Crazythunder's daughter has been in the county jail for a few weeks. The mother says the new way is OK, but she prefers the old way. That is when the family saw their loved one face to face with a glass plate separating them.

"Just because you can see with your own eyes in person, rather through a video," Crazythunder said.

Carmichael says this new method cuts down on inmate contact, reduces manpower, and it "makes sense." People can also go online using their computers and phones to connect with an inmate, which costs $12.50 for 25 minutes.

"Someone who is in Los Angeles, they are able to see their loved ones, and see them face to face with this technology," the sheriff said.

The technology group GTL equipped the sheriff's office with the technology for the inmate visitations. Those online fees will go to the company.

Members of the ACLU are not pleased with the idea. They are concerned inmate visitation has now turned into a money-making business.

"Video visitation also puts a price tag on a service that should be free," ACLU Staff Attorney Irena Como said.

Como is also concerned that the sheriff eliminated the option of face to face visits. She thinks that sends the wrong message and will hurt the inmates and families.

"You lose non-verbal communication, you lose the inmate's ability to maintain their ties with their communities," Como said. "Even worse, they can cause the loss of trust and personal connection with the person on the screen."

The ACLU also says taking away options for inmates to communicate with their family members is wrong and should be corrected.

"These are people who have not have been found guilty of any crime," Como said. "They are still awaiting trial."

This new way of doing things went into full effect last year, but some county commissioners had no idea of the change.

Another change that could come is giving inmates tablets. GTL is also behind this effort. Currently, there are about 1,716 prisoners in the county jail. The Sheriff says if approved, only the well-behaved inmates would get a tablet.

"If that tablet is able to be part of our education piece, let's utilize that," Carmichael said.

Officials say there would be no social media on the tablets and no internet service. The tablets would be used for educational purposes only.

"We want to be able to give them the tools to succeed when they transition outside because 95 percent of the inmates are going to return out to the community - and we want to be able to return them as productive members of society," Carmichael said.

There is no word when Carmichael will decide if inmates will get their own tablets.

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