116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS -- Inmates at the Linn County Correctional Center no longer will be able to receive family and friends for face-to-face visits.
The county implemented video visitation in February after ending in-person visits last year because of the risks of transmitting COVID-19. Sheriff Brian Gardner said the jail has long intended to permanently move to video visits instead of in-person visits, but the pandemic sped up the process.
“Our video visitation system has been installed and is nearly through its beta testing phase,” Gardner said. “All inmates have had access to it for several months. We do not expect to resume face-to-face in-person visitation.”
The Johnson County Jail in Iowa City hasn’t allowed face-to-face visits for at least five years, instead using video visits with guests either coming to the jail lobby or making a video call from home, said Sgt. Alissa Shuerer.
Advocates for incarcerated individuals say they feared jails and prisons wouldn’t return to in-person visits even after the pandemic subsides.
“As we should all know now, Zoom is not the equivalent to seeing someone in-person,” said Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that advocates for criminal justice reforms. “Video may be ‘easier’ for staff, but making family members use video screens to communicate is going to make it harder for people confined in the jail to maintain community ties and succeed after their release.”
The Iowa Department of Corrections announced last week state prisons will resume in-person visits in early July.
In Linn and Johnson counties, inmates can get free video visits if their family or friends come to a terminal in the jail lobby. Each county has one public terminal for video calls during designated visiting times.
Linn County, which has capacity for 401 offenders, has allowed each person two free video visits per week and will continue that through June 30, Gardner said. At that time, remote video visits will cost 25 cents a minute, unless the visitor is at the lobby terminal, he said.
“There is currently one terminal available to the public in the jail lobby. However, we are in the process of adding additional terminals available for public use,” Gardner said. “These terminals will be added prior to charging for video visits.”
Lobby or remote visitors must sign up for a video call through NCIC, the company that provides the video visits.
In the 92-bed Johnson County Jail, guests may do free video visits through the lobby or pay for remote visits. Johnson County’s vendor, TurnKey Corrections, usually charges 39 cents a minute for off-site video visits, but has been offering the video calls for 25 cents a minute during the pandemic.
Since last year, Johnson County has prohibited lobby video visits for new inmates during a 10-day quarantine period, Shuerer said. Those inmates still can make phone calls or have remote video visits. Jail officials are considering whether to end the quarantine restrictions, she said.
The Iowa Utilities Board earlier this year started forcing companies that provide phone service to people incarcerated in county jails to lower rates from as high as $1 a minute to 25 cents or less.
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