New changes streamline business at Kzoo Co. Jail

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Kalamazoo County officials are streamlining business at the Kalamazoo County Jail.

The county has just launched its video visitation system, allowing inmates to visit with family and friends by video, either from the visitation facility or directly from home.

On Friday, Newschannel 3 got a first-hand look at the new setup.

You can think of the new system like Skype or Face Time, as it works virtually the same way.

But why the change?

Undersheriff Paul Matyas says it's more efficient, while requiring fewer dollars.

Gone are the days of inmate visits with a glass partition--now those visits happen by video.

"We're using our technology to reduce our labor costs," Matyas said.

The Undersheriff says that in the past, a corrections officer would be dedicated to getting prisoners out of the cell and moving them down to the visitation area.

Outside of a few exceptions, that doesn't happen anymore.

"We don't have to take him anywhere; he doesn't leave the pod or cell area," Matyas said. "And so, that is really a savings to the taxpayers because that's less of a cost to operate this jail."

Those officers also no longer need to keep a close eye on the visits, as computers take care of that too.

"We would get some inappropriate behavior, and so we would have to physically go out and move the parties involved," Matyas explained. "Here, thsi is monitored, so if we get that inappropriate behavior, we can administratively cut that visit right then and there."

Matyas adds that means those corrections officers can be used in other ways.

"Reassign them to a different task and bottom line, fewer corrections officers necessary to do any job, really," Matyas said.

The county has worked out a 6-year contract with Telmate, the company behind the technology.

Visits that used to be free now cost $7.50. Aside from the first two visits of the week, which are free.

That money allows Telmate to recoup its costs and a small portion goes back into the county's general fund.

Video visits can also take place from home.

But the Undersheriff says since there are built-in controls--like parental controls online--if any inappropriate behavior takes place, the computer recognizes it and effectively cuts off the visit right away.