A new inmate communications platform could provide Saline County Jail inmates and their families communication services at a lower cost.
The Saline County Sheriff’s Office has been researching and narrowing down new vendor options for their inmate communications platform — which provides services like video chatting and exchanging messages with friends, family and legal counsel — since October.
Tuesday morning, the department came to the County Commission with their choice for a new vendor, Smart Communications. Based out of Florida, the company was their top choice for its reputation in the industry and unique mail service that will contribute to staff safety.
New and existing services for inmates and their families
The Saline County Commission approved the Sheriff’s Office selection of Smart Communications Dec. 6.
The search came in preparation for moving into the new jail facility next year. Some requirements the department had in mind were telephone and video messaging as well as a tablet service and mail scanning options.
“One of the things we asked for in the proposal was that this would be in preparation to go into the new facility but that they would also go into our current facility as soon as possible,” said Lieutenant Jerimiah Hayes with the Saline County Sheriff’s Office.
Smart Communications would provide telephone rates at a lower cost for inmates than the jail’s current provider. They provide video visitation kiosks, and a tablet for inmates to utilize for various other services. Rates for video communications will also be cheaper.
Many agencies have gone toward the tablet feature, Hayes said, which through Smart Communications provides inmates with access to schoolwork, law library referencing, reentry programs and communication with attorneys for free.
Upon officer approval, inmates would also be able to pay a fee to stream music, podcasts, movies and video games on the Smart Communications tablets.
“Everything that they offer was less expensive for the friends and family and the inmates than what we currently have,” Hayes said.
The tablets have a blackout feature on the video conferencing in that it only shows the face of people who are talking. If someone looks away or tries to point the camera somewhere else, it blacks out the screen.
A focus on safety and efficiency
On the new system, inmates will continue to be able to message or email their attorneys for free. The proposed system would allow attorneys to upload legal documents to inmate tablets in addition to sending inmates hard copies and video chat with their clients.
Currently, any mail that is sent to inmates is brought to the jail and sorted through by corrections officers, ensuring there is no contraband in it before inmates get the mail.
One issue the Sheriff’s Office ran into was contraband being introduced into the facility through paper soaked in narcotics.
Through Smart Communications, all the mail will be sent to the company’s office in Florida where it gets scanned into the digital system and inmates will be able to view their mail on the tablets and kiosks provided by the company. Inmates would not get a physical copy of their mail.
“It’s safer for the staff, it’ll decrease contraband,” Hayes said. “One of the references I talked to said that the trash in the cells immediately decreased and they… don’t have to worry about any of that contraband being introduced into the jail.”
Smart Communications also provides tools helpful to law enforcement, Hayes said. These include an automated information service line for families to access, a digital request service for inmates when they need something from jail staff, and investigative tools.
After the County Commission’s approval Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Office will begin negotiations with Smart Communications for a contract to come at a later date.
This article originally appeared on Salina Journal: New system would lower costs for Saline County inmates and families