published Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

Video visitation proposed for Hamilton County Jail inmates

Hamilton County Jail inmates may soon have the option to see loved ones via a computer monitor — instead of through a thick sheet of bulletproof glass.

Commissioner Marty Haynes, chairman of the County Commission's security and corrections committee, will meet Friday with sheriff's department officials to discuss proposed digital visitation and other issues, he said Monday.

At the meeting, Haynes said the committee, which includes Commissioners Greg Beck, Tim Boyd and Joe Graham as an alternate, will discuss the pros, cons and costs of installing and running a video system that will allow visitors to use their home computers or tablets to communicate with inmates.

"It's an opportunity to free up some manpower for them at the jail. People will be able to video chat [with inmates] from home," Haynes said. "It's a bit of a lottery system when you come for visitation at the jail currently, and this might reduce some of that crowd."

Although Haynes expects to see a resolution drawn up for the full commission in coming weeks, there is still much to discuss, he said.

"It's different. It will be something that we have to dot all our i's and cross our t's. What we will talk about Friday is a broad view of what [jail officials] are looking at," he said.

Sheriff Jim Hammond, who will not be able to attend the meeting Friday, said he has been trying to keep Haynes in the loop when it comes to jail and police issues. This meeting is in line with that goal, he said.

"He's the chair of that committee, so I've just been meeting with him every few days and talking to him about some of what the sheriff's department does, so that when budget time comes, he will have a better understanding of what our needs are," Hammond said.

Haynes said he hasn't yet seen how much the video system could save the sheriff's budget through avoided staffing costs, but he said he's hopeful about some other aspects of the proposed system.

"The main thing I like about it right now is it would allow our inmates have some contact with their children. Right now, if you're under 18, you can't come in to the jail," Haynes said.

The security and correction committee will meet at noon Friday in the Hamilton County Commission's main conference room.

The meeting was announced Friday.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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