In 2001, a convicted murderer escaped from the Milwaukee County Jail dressed in a wig, hat and maroon slacks after his girlfriend used a tool to remove the window between them in the visitation room. That case was just one an example of the problems inmates can cause in jails or prisons. In other cases, inmates may receive contraband from visitors or other inmates, or inmates may attack officers.
Milwaukee-based Cremer Engineering Co. Inc. is increasing jail personnel efficiency and lowering cost while securing prisoners and guards through its Prison Vision video visitation and video arraignment systems.
Cremer Engineering's primary focus is on the installation of business telephone systems, data networks, video conferencing and nurse call and school intercom systems. The company, located at 10200 Innovation Drive, launched its Prison Vision systems as an additional service offering in 1999.
Milwaukee County Jail has since implemented Cremer's video visitation technology.
"Some facilities still allow contact visitation where inmates and visitors can play cards at a table, but it is reserved for the better-behaved inmates and becomes a privilege,” said James Miller, manager of technical service for Cremer.
Many prisons where Cremer Engineering has installed Prison Vision have removed their contact visitation area, said David Stauff, president of Cremer Engineering.
There are three types of visitation available in jails in the United States today: video visitation, non-contact face-to-face visitation and contact visitation.
"People lose certain rights when they go to jail, and as a result, as long as they are given a certain amount of visitation, it does not matter if it is video, through a plate of glass or holding hands,” Miller said.
Prison Vision is administered through a computer station that a jail employee can set up using any visitor with any inmate. Prison Vision video visitation consists of a secured unit box with a television monitor and a camera inside it and a phone receiver on the outside. Program administrators can open the connection from the visitor's unit to the inmate's unit, and the two parties can talk through a closed circuit connection.
Prison Vision video visitation can be used both within a facility and to connect multiple facilities through its remote application.
The Licking County government in Ohio has used Prison Vision video visitation and video arraignment for about five years, said Chad Fuller, director of information technology services for Licking County.
"Inmates are required to have visitation time and to be monitored, and we provide a different medium for conversations to take place,” Fuller said.
"It is an efficiency objective as well as a security objective,” Fuller said. "Right now, the jail is required to provide so many visitations per week. The deputies would have to escort inmates from their cell locations to the visitation place whether or not there is a visitor scheduled. We have to give them a scheduled time (for visitation) and they have to go. But with the video component, inmates can go to a location near their cells, and (the deputies) don't have to transport them as far.”
The video visitation technology will allow Licking County an easy transition in the future as the jail expands, Fuller said. The jail can take in more inmates and expand for housing facilities without having to add an additional amount of visitation space.
The video arraignment allows a similar kind of efficiency and security, Fuller said.
"Now we do not have to escort prisoners out of jail and can do the arraignments from the jail,” Fuller said. "Judges do not have to go to the jail and be face-to-face with the prisoner without security. And, without the cost of transportation, we are more efficient.”
Cremer Engineering has set up Prison Vision systems all over the country and currently has systems in 15 Wisconsin facilities, including jails, courthouses and departments of correction.
Depending on the features selected, the cost of purchase, implementation and service can range from $3,000 to $6,000 per station, Miller said. Different features include recording conversations, monitoring ability during a conversation, pre-scheduling and off site connectivity over a fiber network.
The average system based on Cremer's sales costs $150,000, Miller said.
The technology is becoming more popular as cost savings are met, safety improvements are seen and the reduction in manpower required for the jails is achieved, Miller said.
The next step may be to have Prison Vision in attorney's offices, Stauff said.
"I don't think at any point of time that crime is going to go away; it is always going to be there,” Fuller said. "We see as counties continue to grow as well as cities, as the need for jail expansion takes place it is only going to make sense to incorporate this and other technologies into the operation. It creates efficiency and makes a larger jail easier to manage.”
Elizabeth Geldermann is a reporter for Small Business Times. Send technology news to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling her at (414) 277-8181, ext. 121. Technology news can also be sent to: Elizabeth Geldermann, Small Business Times, 1123 N. Water St., Milwaukee, WI 53202.