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Ntl Institute of Corr Web Based Inmate Visitation Case Study Washoe Nv 2012

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National Jail Exchange 2012

http://NICIC.gov/NationalJailExchange

Web-Based Inmate Visitation Improves
Security and Access in Washoe County,
Nevada

By Debi Campbell, Detention Operations Manager, Washoe County Sheriff's Office,
Reno, Nevada
When Mike Haley was elected to the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office in Reno, Nevada, in January 2007,
he brought with him the determination to ensure that his office would be a leader in technology and
innovation for direct supervision facilities throughout the country.

One of Sheriff Haley’s first requests of the Detention Bureau was to find and implement a web-based
inmate visitation system so that family and friends would not have to come into the facility to visit an
inmate.
The goal was to alleviate the long waits that our visitors experienced and eliminate the necessity of
moving visitors into secure areas within the facility, increasing operational efficiencies while providing
added benefit for both inmates and their visitors.
Sheriff Haley’s request turned out to be a bit of a challenge. At the time, we were in the process of
completing a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a video visitation system and added the web-based visiting
concept as an addition to the RFP. Although we spoke with many vendors who stated that they could
accomplish a web-based system, our efforts proved fruitless, partly because this was a “new”
technology and partly because of the cost associated with funding the development in light of the bleak
economic climate.
In 2010 a local company asked our agency if we would act as their pilot test site for a web-based visiting
application. Since this company was at the time headquartered in Reno and was willing to cover all startup, hardware, and software costs to accomplish its objective, we jumped at the chance.
Although there were no costs to the Sheriff’s Office, people wishing to visit inmates would be charged
$9.00 for a half-hour visit. We had considerable concerns at first that our visiting customers might not
be willing to pay to use this new service.
On August 1, 2010, we went live. Although it took several months for the web-based visiting option to
pick up, once it did it really took off.

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As web visits steadily increased, we developed a goal to have web visits be the primary source of visits
for our inmates by August 2012. We reached that goal 4 months ahead of schedule. In April 2012, webbased visits outpaced in-house visits by exactly one visit.
Although web-based visits have not sustained the majority, Figure 1 (page 2) provides a vivid example of
the growth of web-based visiting in just 2 years’ time. We went from just 80 web-based visits in August
2010 to 1,500 in August 2012.

Figure 1. Trends in Web-Based and In-House Visitation, Washoe County Detention Center,
September 2010–August 2012

Visiting
3000

2500

2000

1500

1000

500

Off-site Visits

In House Visits

Linear (Off-site Visits)

Aug-12

Jul-12

Jun-12

May-12

Apr-12

Mar-12

Feb-12

Jan-12

Dec-11

Nov-11

Oct-11

Sep-11

Aug-11

Jul-11

Jun-11

May-11

Apr-11

Mar-11

Feb-11

Jan-11

Dec-10

Nov-10

Oct-10

Sep-10

0

Linear (In House Visits )

During those 2 years, we also saw numerous advantages with online visiting.
•

Web visits have significantly reduced the number of people waiting in our visiting
lobby. They have reduced the amount of foot traffic that comes into the jail as visitors
are now opting for web-based visitation instead of personal visits. Statistically less than
50% of the public who visit in the jail lobby conduct repeat visits, while over two-thirds

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of our remote visitors are repeating visits, many of whom conduct dozens of visits
without ever setting foot in our facility.
•

Web visits increase the safety of our inmates and our staff. Safety is our highest
priority, and every time we move inmates through the jail for visits, a potential safety
concern exists. Web-based visits reduce those concerns and greatly reduce
opportunities for introducing contraband into the jail.

•

Visitors have a higher quality visit with the inmate. With cloud-based technology, there
are no servers to purchase, install, or maintain. The system is convenient and easy to
use. Visitors simply go to the website, set up an account, and schedule a visit. All of this
is accomplished without downloading any software. Additionally, visitors are able to
schedule the visits in the comfort of their home or office and have increased visitation
length and frequency. A web visit can be done from any device that has internet access
and a web cam. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. Sample Images from Inmate Visit on a Handheld Device and Tablet

•

Web visiting gives the visitor the option NOT to bring children into the detention
facility. Numerous studies have been published regarding the welfare of children who
are regularly brought into correctional facilities. We know that the jail is not a good
environment for children. Web visiting allows spouses/partners and children to visit
remotely in the morning before work and school and then again in the evening once
they are back at home.

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•

Web visiting is a viable law enforcement tool. The system keeps track of all visits while
recording standard visits automatically and allowing visits to be monitored. All visit
information is recorded and easily retrievable, so we do not need to keep paper trails
for our web-based visits. The system has become a helpful investigative tool used by
different agencies within our county. We have provided our detectives with access to
the scheduling system and recording repository, which has proven to be a highly
effective resource for them. We routinely provide copies of visits or visit information to
other criminal justice agencies, including our District Attorney’s Office.

•

The system creates another income source for inmates. Web-based visiting programs
are being marketed much like inmate commissary and inmate telephone systems
wherein a percentage of the income is given back to the facility for the inmates’ use.

•

Less staff time is required to implement and track visiting, for both civilians and
deputies. We installed the web visiting stations in the housing units, and we post a list
of visits every day. All the inmate needs to do is be at the correct terminal at the correct
time. The regular visits start and stop automatically.

•

Visiting hours have been expanded. Because we put the web stations in the housing
units (see Figure 3), we have been able to expand our visiting times and the number of
visits an inmate can receive daily.

Figure 3. Web Visitation Console Installed in Housing Unit

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As with all new technology, there have been some issues to overcome. At first the vendor had trouble
understanding the complexity and logistics of moving inmates within the facility to accommodate visits
while maintaining the safety and security of the facility. The vendor also needed to understand why we
could not accommodate visits 24 hours a day, 7 days per week.
As an agency, the Sheriff’s Office had some issues to work through as well. Because we were the pilot
test for a new product, it became necessary for us to change our procedures often at the beginning of
the project, in order to keep up with the changes we had requested from the vendor. This created
frustration for staff which translated into some customer service issues for our visitors.

As is often the case with a radically new procedure, we experienced an unusual resistance to change in
implementing the system. Some of this can be attributed to the constant procedural changes and some
to a normal resistance to change.
All in all, this has been a positive experience with an excellent vendor who has provided exceptional
customer service and a willingness to listen to our concerns and ideas to continually improve the
product.
For more information, contact Debi Campbell, Detention Operations Manager, Washoe County Sheriff's
Office, Reno, Nevada; telephone (775) 328-2893; email dcampbell@washoecounty.us.

The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office website (http://www.washoesheriff.com) provides instructions and
policy information for web-based inmate visitation. See the “Visit an Inmate” link on the homepage.

Document available at:
http://community.nicic.gov/blogs/national_jail_exchange/archive/2012/11/01/web-based-inmatevisitation-improves-security-and-access-in-washoe-county-nevada.aspx

The National Jail Exchange is an ongoing electronic journal focusing on providing information to jails
practitioners and is sponsored by the National Institute of Corrections (NIC). The contents of the articles,
the points of view expressed by the authors, and comments posted in reaction to the articles do not
necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the National Institute of Corrections.
To write an article or to learn more about the National Jail Exchange, visit the homepage for this journal
at: http://NICIC.gov/NationalJailExchange.

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