Benton County Jail To End Free In-Person Visits

BENTONVILLE (KFSM) — The Benton County Jail has announced that in-person visits between inmates and their family and friends will end this fall.

In its place is a remote video visitation system that is expected to launch in September.

The system, much like Skype or FaceTime, will allow visitors to remotely video chat with detainees using a home computer or laptop through the SmartJailMail website.

Sgt. Shannon Jenkins, with the Benton County Sheriff's Office, called the change "safer" and "more secure", and added that it would cut down on the exchange of contraband during visits.

Jenkins said the move will use less deputy time monitoring visits and transporting detainees through the jail.

"It actually frees up more time for the deputies to be able to focus on other areas of the jail, and the safety," Jenkins said.

The Washington County Sheriff's Office recently announced that it too would add video visitation systems, but will continue to offer in-person visits.

The visits will cost 50 cents per minute in 15-minute increments and must be scheduled a day in advance.

"There's no cost to the sheriff's office for it," Jenkins said. "The only fee is the fee for somebody that they can put on the books to visit."

Jenkins said there are now talks to install a remote video system in the jail's lobby, which would maintain a cost-free visitation option.

The American Bar Association and the American Correctional Association have published policy guidelines saying video visitation and other emerging technologies should be a supplement for in-person visitation, not a substitute.

Other jails around the country have implemented remote visitation, but some states like Texas passed laws requiring in-person visitation to be maintained at county jails.

Video visits at Benton County's location can be scheduled every day of the week, including holidays. Inmates will be allowed two such visits each week, according to a news release. Attorneys will still have in-person access to their clients.