Delays in connecting the Williams County jail’s new video visitation system with an older one have left some inmates without the means to see family and friends during visiting hours for up to a month.
The communication breakdown began when the Williams County Correctional Center’s old video visitation room was demolished as part of a $20 million jail expansion. Although the new visitation room was operational, equipment in the older part of the jail wasn’t compatible with the new system, leaving about 40 inmates unable to receive visitors.
“We’re trying to get these two systems to operate together. The older one has to be upgraded to match up with the entirety of everything,” Williams County Sheriff Verlan Kvande said.
Jail administrators say they’ve been fielding calls from angry family members and complaints from inmates since the visitation upgrade began about two months ago, when some prisoners were moved into new sections of the jail. Visitors first had no access to inmates in the new section until the updated system was connected. Then, the older equipment was incompatible with the upgrades.
One Williston woman said she was visiting her grandson every Tuesday and Thursday since his arrest in July, but has been unable to see him for a month because his cell is in the older section of the jail.
“It’s just kind of important,” the woman, who declined to give her name out of concern for her grandson’s safety, said. “I have his 15-year-old brother also, he lives with me, and he kind of gets lonesome for his older brother.”
The teenager often went with her when school wasn’t in session, she said.
The woman said she can’t afford to pay for phone cards for her grandson, although he has occasionally been able to contact her.
“He can text once in a while when he has money, but otherwise I see him in court, and there’s no talking there,” she said.
Echoing a question that many people have called the jail to ask, she wonders why the situation has stretched on for so long.
“It’s just like they don’t care. I guess it isn’t a privilege for inmates to have visitation,” she said. “I can’t understand if they’ve got a visitation booth why at least one day every two weeks they can’t walk those prisoners over to that side of the building.”
Such a solution isn’t simple, Kvande said.
Moving inmates around inside the building creates risk that people housed in different sections of the jail would have contact with each other, which is a violation of state regulations for corrections facilities.
“There’s going to be some safety concerns with that and with some jail rules as far as how inmates are classified,” Kvande said. “When moving inmates to different pods, they’re within sight and sound of other classified inmates.”
Laws require inmates who haven’t yet been convicted to remain separate from those serving a sentence and mandate that inmates who are a high risk should be kept apart from others as well, Kvande said.
Still, the jail’s staff is trying to find a short-term solution while computers and software that will operate the visitation system throughout the jail are being put in. The equipment was delivered this week, but it’s not clear when electricians will be finished with rewiring and installation.
“I am aware of it, I understand it, I feel bad for those families affected by this,” Kvande said, adding that corrections officers are trying to defuse inmate frustration by keeping them updated.
“They have been quite reasonable when we explain to them about the problems that are going on,” he said.