In response to “Exploiting the vulnerable in Charlotte” (Toussaint Romain column, Jan. 16):
As Mecklenburg County Sheriff, I carefully consider every decision I make. When I decided to implement video visitation (VV) technology in our jails, it was a decision I did not enter into lightly. I think it’s important to explain how VV actually works at our detention facilities. First, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) does not receive any funds from its VV contract with GTL.
Prior to moving to VV in October of 2016, MCSO allowed in-person visits where each inmate was allowed one visit per week unless it was a visit from an attorney, clergy or professional service provider. With in-person visits, each inmate was allowed one (free) visit each week. With VV, each inmate is still allowed one (free) visit each week. Costs are only a factor if an inmate’s family or friends would like additional visits, an option not available prior to video visitation. Many have taken advantage of the conveniences that VV offers. In the year prior to VV, between October 2015 and September 2016, the Mecklenburg County Jails saw approximately 18,710 visits. Since VV was implemented, there has been a 25.9 percent increase in the number of visits. From October 2016 to October 2017, there were approximately 23,562 visits using VV. The numbers speak for themselves.
With in-person visits, there were a number of security procedures because we had to physically move inmates throughout the facility. This was staff intensive and limited visitation to one specific day of the week determined by housing units. With VV technology, we have enhanced the security of our detention operations, lessened inmate movement and expanded VV hours to seven days a week regardless of the facility or housing unit, allowing families to schedule visits convenient for them.
Claiming that women who don’t receive financial support may not be able to see their child is a stretch. Female and male inmates have always been allowed one (free) visit each week. Under VV, they may actually be able to see their child more often if their family chooses to purchase time outside of the free video visit allowed each week.
The writer mentions free platforms like FaceTime and Skype which are personal services offered with little security. We operate fully accredited detention facilities and to think that we would haphazardly deploy this type of technology in our facilities would be irresponsible. The GTL video visitation platform includes technology with multiple features and layers of security.
Video visitation was deployed more than 14 months ago. There were press releases and notifications posted throughout the jail as we prepared to deploy this technology. I find the timing of the writer’s protest against VV questionable and his opinion rooted in little fact and extremely misleading.
As the elected Sheriff of Mecklenburg County, I have a responsibility to all citizens of this great county. To imply or opine that my decision to implement VV is an attempt to exploit poor people or to take away one of our most basic human needs is an outright falsehood. To the contrary, this program has increased access to loved ones while also increasing the safety and security of our facilities, inmates and staff alike at no cost to taxpayers.
Carmichael is the sheriff of Mecklenburg County.