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Knox County’s debate offers a snapshot of competing narratives about the move to electronic visitation, which continues to spread nationwide. Knoxville News Sentinel

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FARMINGTON — Family members and friends of inmates at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center will no longer be able to visit the detainee on site.

The county has announced that, starting Jan. 15, visits must be done remotely over the phone or through an approved online video chat application called Getting Out. 

An email to The Daily Times announcing the change stated that in-person visitation would end Jan. 15, however, San Juan County clarified on Jan. 14 that in-person visits have not been offered for the last 15 years. Instead, visitors used closed-loop video and audio systems at the detention center. 

San Juan County is advertising this change as a positive step that will reduce the travel burden families face while visiting inmates.

“It comes down to technology and convenience for family members,” said county spokesman Devin Neeley when reached by phone on Jan. 13.

The change will also increase security by decreasing the number of people going in and out of the detention center each day, Neeley said. He said that will allow the detention center to reassign officers to other parts of the facility. This will also save taxpayers money, according to Neeley. 

Nationwide trend to end in-person visits has advantages, drawbacks 

Hundreds of jails and prisons across the United States have moved away from in-person visits in favor of video visitation, according to Massachusetts-based nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative.

While this trend has the advantage of increasing accessibility, Prison Policy Initiative says not allowing in-person visits can have negative impacts on the inmates as well as the safety at the jails and prisons.

"The feeling of being physically close to your loved one can't be replaced by fancy technology," said Wanda Bertram, a communications strategist for Prison Policy Initiative, in an email to The Daily Times. "But even if it could, this technology is far from fancy. This isn't Skype; it's shoddy technology that is glitchy, grainy, doesn't allow you to look the other person in the eyes, and can break and go down for weeks. Family visits are often the only source of hope for people in jail. When you take that away, it can seriously hurt people psychologically, and that puts everyone in the jail at risk."

More: Video jail visits in Knox County: 5 things to know

Prison Policy Initiative teamed up with a group called Face to Face Knox to study the impacts ending in-person visitation had at the Knox County Jail in Knoxville, Tennessee. Knox County ended in-person visitation in 2014. The Face to Face Knox report was released in January 2018.

The Face to Face Knox study found that ending in-person visitation did not lead to a substantial drop the amount of contraband entering the jail, and that ending in-person visits made the jail more dangerous by increasing the number of assaults on other inmates or staff.

According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, people using the video visitation software complained that calls would fail halfway through the visit, and sometimes they couldn't even get it to connect.

A 2015 Prison Policy Initiative report stated the fees for video visitation can make it hard for impoverished family members to visit with the inmates. The report stated that people from poorer communities are more likely to be incarcerated and those poorer communities tend to have less access to the internet.

More: Point, click, but no touch: Debate shapes up over video visitation at Knox jail

Neeley said each detainee at the San Juan County Detention Center will have a free 15-minute video visit each week. Additional visits or time will be charged 25 cents per minute.

Neeley said the county is aware that the phone or online visitation may not work for everyone. He said the court can notify the detention center and, when necessary, it will make allowances for visits.

How to schedule a phone, video visit

The phone visitation will be provided through Global Tel Link. There is a charge for this service. This can be paid through collect, debit through commissary, advance pay and advance pay accounts. To set up an advance pay account, call 800-483-8314. The website is www.ConnectNetwork.com. The hours of operation are 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. central time Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. central time on weekends.

The online video visitation is provided through a service called Getting Out. To schedule an online visit using Getting Out, call customer service at 866-516-0115 or go to www.GettingOut.com/visit-now.

There are daily blackout times from 1:30 to 3 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. for both the phone and online video visitation.

Securus phone cards will not work with the Global Tel Link and Global Tel Link cannot transfer or process a Securus refund, according to the county. Securus can be contacted at 800-844-6591.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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Clarification: An earlier version of this story stated the county detention center was ending in-person visitation.

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