AP NEWS

County board agrees to new video chat system in jail

January 23, 2019

Inmates at the Platte County Detention Facility will soon have a new way of communicating with the outside world.

The Platte County Board of Supervisors at its Tuesday meeting agreed to sign a new five-year contract with inmate telephone service Encartele. The agreement will lead to a new video visitation system installed at the detention facility.

Platte County Sheriff Ed Wemhoff said the company will mount the devices to walls in each cell block and current visitation room - 10 devices in total. People can then go online to video chat with inmates, for a fee.

“What this will allow people to do is if they come from a long distance or have to travel, or maybe they have work times or times that don’t work well with our visitation times, they can actually go online and basically register themselves to visit an inmate,” Wemhoff said.

According to Encartele’s website, the device includes a 7-inch touch screen and 25-inch handset phone attached to it. Inmates can hear and talk into the phone and video chat with people through the screen via a 1080p megapixel fixed camera.

People will create an account at www.encartele.net in order to schedule a time to chat with an inmate on the device, their smartphone or computer with a webcam. The service is free for inmates but will charge outside people by the minute to use.

Wemhoff said the new system will be a benefit to the county and will hopefully reduce the number of visitors arriving at the detention facility. The installation is free and the company will provide maintenance and software upgrades at no charge. Installation work should begin sometime in February, with the system up and running by March.

Inmates aren’t required to use the system and will still have access to the facility’s phones and visitation room for in-person visits. Wemhoff said a lot of newly built facilities utilize a similar system but have done away with in-person visitation.

“This is something that has kind of been an up and coming new thing for a lot of new facilities,” Wemhoff said. “A lot of these jails are going to this sort of visitation facility. It’s safer, less movement of inmates, fewer opportunities for confrontation or attempted escape or assault.”

Administrator for the Butler County Jail Andy Yost said its facility installed the same video chat system from Encartele in October 2018 and in-person visitation has significantly decreased. While the detention facility no longer allows face-to-face visitation through its glass-walled visitation room, Yost said the new system allows for people to chat with their families at home as opposed to surrounded by guards in jail.

“It works great,” Yost said. “Overall, I think our inmates have mostly been in favor for it.”

At Tuesday’s county board meeting, the board also accomplished the following:

*Appointing District 1 Supervisor Fred Liss as board liaison for the E. 29th Avenue Viaduct project.

*Setting of the hearing for one- and six-year projects at 10-11 a.m. on Feb. 19.

*Approval for Wemhoff to purchase a new patrol vehicle.

Eric Schucht is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at eric.schucht@lee.net.