Pictured above is one of eight video screens installed on the ground level of the DCDF. These will be where friends, family and loved ones see the detainee with whom they have scheduled a visit. As you can see, they will speak through a telephone receiver. Upstairs, detainees will go to the visitation room, where they will sit down at one of the windows, and, instead of see their visitor at the window in front of them, will look into a tablet-sized screen and speak into a telephone receiver. As this photo makes clear, our rallying cry—“video visitation is a glorified phone call”—is spot on.
Although the Renovo (owned by GTL) online visitation scheduling system is currently allowing people to schedule video visits*, there is no word about this in the lobby at DCDF. In fact, hanging on the wall near the scheduling kiosk in the lobby, there are laminated instructions from Pay-Tel, the jail’s former telephone service provider (contract ended in June 2015). Also hanging on the lobby walls in two different places is a brochure celebrating a “Recovery Celebration” that is happening somewhere in Durham in September or happened last September (it is unclear). There is also no word about the fact that the Renovo system was “upgraded,” meaning that people with older operating systems on a home, work or public computer, or on a personal device, can no longer use the online system to schedule a visit, and therefore must schedule at the lobby kiosk.
Sheriff Mike Andrews and DCSO spokesperson Tamara Gibbs have claimed that video non-visitation will make for a safer environment and will save the county money. They have made this claim without ever saying how (and media has not forced them to provide reasoning, despite the fact that it is a preposterous claim). The online scheduling system does suddenly show wording about purchasing visits, internet visits, and the possibility of video nonvisits having a cost (see screenshots below). As always, changes are made and detainees and their families are not informed about them.
The station pictured here, and the seven alongside of it, are undoubtedly objects worthy of our unmitigated wrath and fury. In the great and long tradition of Ned Ludd, these machines should be summarily and swiftly smashed to bits or simply pulled out of their docking stations and trashed. But, even if that is done, we must remember, it is not the machines that are really the problem, nor are they the most suitable targets of our wrath. Rather, it is what the machines represent: a belief on the part of those in power that they can justify the increasing degradation of detainees and prisoners and their loved ones. Andrews, who never shows his face, and instead sends his lackey, Paul Martin; Couch, the interim detention director and so-called head of security; and the county commissioners, especially those who approved the video visitation plan (Wendy Jacobs, Brenda Howerton, Ellen Reckhow). They must be held accountable.
*We invite folks to share any and all information about experiences they have had using the scheduling system or with the video non-visit terminals. Share to our Facebook wall, as a comment on this blog, or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org)