PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) - Portsmouth Sheriff Bill Watson has implemented the HOMEWAV web access visitation system providing face to face video calls.
This is the first time in Virginia jail inmates will be able to communicate with family and friends seven days a week via the internet. Video visitation means set visitation hours are a thing of the past, replacing them with visits seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Michael Bell is an inmate in the Portsmouth City Jail, and beginning Aug. 6, he and other inmates can start using the HOMEWAV Web access to communicate with loved ones at home.
"I've made some bad choices, but I miss my kids, so this machine is going to allow me to talk to them," Bell says. "It's one thing to talk to them on the phone, but to see them running around in a room and moving around and to see the expression on their face, it's really going to be a big help."
SE Systems owner Chris Gerarge is installing the system, and says anyone with a computer and a webcam can connect to the system.
The calls cost 50 cents a minute, and 30 percent of the money raised will go into the inmate canteen fund for inmate services. The video visitation is also designed to boost morale making deputies' jobs easier.
"We want them to stay in touch with their families. We want them to talk with their children, and this is one way of doing it, and it is really important," Lt. Lee Cherry said.
The video visitation will really be important for Bell on Aug. 13 when he makes a surprise call to his 8-year-old daughter.
"Because of this machine I will be able to call her on her birthday and see her face to face, so that's really important to me," Bell said.
Children under 12 cannot even go in the jail, and statistics show increased communication with family can only help inmates when they get out.
"If an inmate can communicate with this family while they are in jail, it reduces the chances they return to jail after they do their time," Gerarge said.
There is no cost to taxpayers for implementing the video system, which will have 27 stations including the one used to monitor the calls. Jail administrators tell WAVY.com if anything inappropriate happens during the calls, the inmates' access to the video visitation will be revoked.
Provider HOMEWAV and installer SE Systems are both Virginia Beach-based companies. They have installed the system in jails in five states so far.