Face Time for Inmates

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that beginning September 1, 2010, death row inmates in the Virginia prison system would no longer be able to visit their families in the closest thing that can be considered face to face. Three years ago, the Virginia Department of Corrections banned what is called a contact visit from their death row inmates, requiring the inmate stays behind a glass partition during a family visit.

Starting in September, those visits will be purely done by video conferencing.  Virginia is following the heels of Kansas, the only other state to require family visits for death row inmates, and there are very strong feelings about the change from the position of the Department of Corrections, as well as the families on the inmates.

Officials who support the migration over to a pure video conference system feel like the change will help them to better use the staff on site at the prison systems.  Video conferencing will eliminate the need for searching inmates and visitors. Also, the facility will no longer have to be shut down to escort the inmate from death row to the visitation rooms. These visitations will also be recorded and provided to the family members.

Family members of death row inmates oppose the new visitation rules and say that the inmates are already on death row, and this change is only further punishing the inmates.

Supporters of the new visitation rules state that this will cut down on security concerns across the prison. Taking a death row inmate to a visitation is not as simple as walking them down a hall. They must be cuffed and chained, and the areas of the prison that have to be walked through must be put on lock down, requiring extra staff to monitor the other inmates. Not only would this measure decrease the need for extra security protocols, it would also lower staff costs.

The article did not mention the visitation circumstances surrounding procedures in regards to an inmate’s “last” visit.

The question really boils down to – is it the right place to beef up security? With reports of attempted and successful prison breaks on the rise, less physical contact with someone who could aid in an escape is a great idea, but there are two sides to every argument. What side are you on? 

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