A view of San Quentin State Prison, Marin County, California.

Dec 15 2020

California Enables Video Visitation for Inmates

The new videoconferencing solution is being rolled out across California state prisons this month.

As the coronavirus pandemic surges across the country, California is rolling out videoconferencing solutions to enable virtual visits for inmates in the state’s prisons.

In-person visits at state prisons have been suspended since March 11 due to the pandemic. The goal of the new California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation program is to allow inmates to visit with their families while also limiting the spread of the virus.

“CDCR recognizes visiting is an important way to maintain family and community ties,” the department says on its website explaining the program. “At the same time, our first priority is the health and safety of those who live in and work in our facilities.”

The program was supposed to kick off on Nov. 28, but was delayed until Dec. 5. It allows inmates a free, 30-minute video visit every 30 days. The first virtual visits began for inmates at San Quentin State Prison, California Institution for Men, Mule Creek State Prison, Valley State Prison and Central California Women’s Facility.

“Since families cannot connect in person yet, I want them to be able to connect in real-time, and see and talk to one another remotely until in-person visiting can safely reopen,” CDCR Secretary Kathleen Allison said in a statement, according to the Los Angeles Times.

According to the CDCR, all 35 prisons in its system will start offering limited video visiting to enable friends and family to safely meet with inmates virtually. An additional 17 prisons will be added to the program on the weekend of Dec. 12 and Dec. 13, and 13 more will be added the weekend of Dec. 19 and Dec. 20.

Videoconferencing Solution Enables Connection for Inmates

There are several guidelines the CDCR has created for the visits. Only those individuals who have already been approved as visitors may make an appointment, according to the CDCR. Visitors must make a reservation via email and reservation dates and times cannot be changed.

According to the CDCR, visits will be conducted using Cisco’s Webex platform.

The department notes that Webex “can be accessed for free on devices with internet and camera capabilities (i.e., smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop computer).”

Inmates will use laptops in designated visiting areas, according to the department. “CDCR will only provide laptop computers to inmates; no equipment will be provided to visitors by CDCR,” the department notes.

Government Technology reports that the video visits “will be secure due to encrypted communication, with CDCR ensuring only approved visitors join the call.”

CDCR says it encourages visitors to familiarize themselves with the new video visiting guidelines and procedures. “Once connected to the Webex system, visitors should ensure they are in a location where they will be able to hear throughout the visit, as the incarcerated person’s mask must remain on through the duration of the video visit,” the department notes.

Cisco recently rolled out Connected Justice, a new platform that enables different aspects of the criminal justice system, including courtroom proceedings, visitations at correctional facilities and check-ins with parolees.

Cisco notes that the offering for correctional facilities “provides seamless virtual visitation services via simplified workflow and user experience.” The goal is to enable inmates to get easy virtual access to critical services such as court appearances, telehealth services and distance learning.

MORE FROM STATETECH: How are connected justice system solutions evolving?

Frank Schulenburg/Getty Images