SAN ANTONIO – Bexar County Commissioners Tuesday approved a $2.2 million contract to install an inmate video visitation system at the Bexar County Jail.
The system will enable the sheriff's office to eliminate a majority of face-to-face visits at the jail.
"This is a technology that has been used across the nation and in Texas for more than 20 years, and used successfully," said Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau.
Visitors will now go to the Toudoze Market Building to video conference with an inmate inside their jail cell, eliminating the need for jail staff to escort them to and from the visitation area.
"As (inmates) are being escorted back to their living unit, that's the most dangerous and the most vulnerable time for assaults (on jail staff)," Pamerleau said.
The sheriff said video conferencing will cut down on long wait times for visitors, keep illegal contraband from entering the jail, expand visitation hours by 250 percent, and allow at-risk inmates access to visitors.
"Those are the people that are in most need of visitation," she said. "Those in the mental health unit, those in our special management units, suicide prevention units, and the medical clinic."
Diana Ibanez has a family member in prison. Though penitentiaries are run differently than county jails, she said eliminating face-to-face visits will be a detriment to inmates and their family.
"When you go for a visit, you want to see that they're OK. You want to make eye-contact. You just feel closer," Ibanez said. "Even though that glass (partition) is there, you still feel close and you feel comfortable with what you're seeing."
Using the video visitation system will be free.
Despite the change, some inmates with young children will still be allowed to have face-to-face visits. Pamerleau said other exceptions could be made on a case-by-case basis.
The installation is scheduled to be complete by early next year.