Visitations at the Erie County Holding Center and Correctional Facility have gone high-tech.
Last year, Erie County signed an agreement with IC Solutions to provide telephone services for inmates. As part of that agreement, the company installed video kiosks so loved ones can talk with inmates without having to come into the facilities. Sheriff's Department Spokesman Scott Zylka said there is one kiosk per housing unit, or about 20 people.
He said 75 people used the new service over the first test week.
"It's $12.50 for up to a 25-minute video visit, but when you consider the costs of parking downtown and traveling out to the Correctional Facility, this is relatively cheap compared to gas and parking," Zylka said.
He said there is no limit as to how many people can video-conference with an inmate at one time, which allows families more access. However, the 25-minute time limit was imposed to give as many users as possible an opportunity to talk without tying up the kiosks.
Zylka said users register 24 hours ahead of time, either online or by downloading an app.
"The great thing is that sometimes the facilities are closed," he said. "These have specific hours, but it's available seven days a week, so if an individual can't make it out due to whatever reasons, maybe they can have an opportunity to meet with their loved one on a Sunday afternoon video conference."
Zylka said all visits are monitored, but conversations with attorneys, clergy, physicians and other professionals abide by associated privacy rules. He said there was no cost to taxpayers to install the new system, while Erie County and the telephone company share the $12.50 revenue from each video visit.
Chautauqua County set up a similar system last year and found fewer in-house visits cut down on contraband smuggled into their facilities. Zylka said Erie County is hoping for the same outcome.