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County Jail offers new video chat service

TROY -- It is a new way to visit inmates in prison and if you live in Rensselaer County you do not need to know somebody behind bars to benefit from it.
Inmate Benjamin Bornhorst is using IP Web Visitor to see and talk to his sister. Authorities at the Rensselaer County Jail say it's a secure system similar to Skype that allows inmates to communicate with family and friends at a cost of $9.00 per 20-minute call.
"And, you know, in today's day and age taking a taxi down here or back home or bus trips or even driving with the cost of gas.[Comparatively the service is] very reasonable," Rensselaer County Sheriff Jack Mahar said.
The county will spend the next year-or-so paying off installation and security costs. It's a goal authorities say will be met if each 20-minute slot available on one of 28 video-chat kiosks is filled.
"Our investment is somewhere around $350 [thousand and] $380,000," Mahar said.
The county will then collect roughly 70% of the revenue generated from each call. Calls are recorded with audio and video in addition to being physically monitored by a correction officer.
"It will prevent contraband from getting into the facility, which is always a problem. And most of that contraband, unfortunately, is drugs," Rensselaer County Correction Facility Chief Edward Bly said.
Attorneys and other licensed professionals can talk to inmates this way too. Authorities say those conversations will not be recorded if the jail can validate credentials before the chat goes through.
Authorities say this technology is the way of the future.
"It helps the system all the way through and in the future we're hoping that New York State changes its rules on video court arraignments and stop a lot of the movement of the inmates from the correctional facility to the courts," Mahar said.
The money generated from the video calls will go right back to the county to offset tax levies for public safety costs.
Before this system was in place inmates could only have two, one hour in-person visits a week. Now, these new video chat visits will be unlimited. However, the person on the outside is the one who has to schedule the 20-minute time slot in advanced and will also have to pay.
 
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