CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - Hamilton County inmates will soon have a new way to communicate with their loved ones. The jail is being wired with technology to allow for live video visits over the computer.
The Hamilton County Commission gave approval for a Florida-based company to equip the jail with an online video chat system for inmates. It could be up and running as soon as April. Of course, there's a user fee. The sheriff says the county will make money off of it, but it's getting mixed reactions from those visiting their locked up loved ones.
"It's very hard because he's already been here for a year and two months so it's kind of tough without him home," Janice Hurd said.
Janice Hurd makes the trek down to the Hamilton County Jail twice a week during the approved times, gets searched and waits for at least an hour to visit with her husband. Sheriff Jim Hammond says it's a method that needs improving.
"For officers it's a safety thing. Having to get prisoners out, having to chain them, having to take them down flights of stairs and having to put them in the visitation booth," Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said.
But now, there's a new option. The jail will have computer stations for web-based video chats with inmates.
"I think that's a very impersonal way to visit. You know we already have a glass between us," Amber Harris said.
Some visitors, like Amber Harris, are not on board, especially when it comes to the fee. It's around 60 cents a minute, or $18 for a half an hour on-screen visit.
"That's going to take a chunk when you're already paying to keep money on their books, phones for them to be able to call, you know it's expensive," Harris said.
Many saying they're already strapped for cash with their partner in jail and out of work.
"We already get charged for the phone calls so that's going to be more money out of our pockets," Hurd said.
Others say it's worth it.
"I think it will be better because I really don't like coming down here," Jenearia Pullom said.
Sheriff Hammond says the in-person visits will still be an option, but expects the majority of people will use the new method. Staff will monitor the computer visits and unacceptable behavior will result in losing visitation privileges.
"It's not something where somebody can just go find the Hamilton County Jail site and say I want to talk to inmate A, B or C. You have to be pre-approved for the visit just like you do now," Sheriff Hammond said.
The system is not costing tax payers, because the vendors pay for the equipment. They get all the money visitors pay until their around $40,000 investment is recouped. After that, they'll start splitting the profit with Hamilton County.