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Knox County Secures More Money From Inmate Conversations

prison video calling

The Knox County Commission voted Monday night to approve a contract adjustment that will increase its portion of fees collected by inmates in its jails.

Those fees are paid by prisoners who wish to speak to friends or family outside the jail. As Compass reports, the county's cut will increase from 61 percent to 69 percent by December 2019. If the contract is renewed, that will go up to 75 percent in 2021. However, the program has had its detractors.

Knox County prisoners haven't been allowed face-to-face meetings with family or friends since 2014. The move was controversial, as some public defenders at the time spoke out to say it dehumanized inmates and put additional financial strain on those who could least afford it.  The program continues, and has completely replaced in-person visits. Visitors who drive to the jail can only communicate via video. The in-person chats are free of charge.

An e-mail from Allison Rogers, the chief financial officer for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, said, "from July 2017 to June 2018, Knox County received $519,668.29 from Securus in fees for email, video and phone communication." Texas-based Securus provides the equipment for the project, including tablets which prisoners can purchase on their own.  

Not everyone at Monday's county commission meeting supported the contract change. Some residents spoke against the video system, noting lawsuits against the contractor Securus and the stress of being unable to see a loved one face-to-face. Public defender Julia Gautreau said the Roger D. Wilson Detention Center was built with a visitation section, which now sits vacant.

Opponents argue the program does more harm than good, despite the revenue it generates. Prison Legal News points to numbers that indicate the system didn't cut down on contraband in the jails, and that face-to-face interactions can help reduce recidivism. The group Face To Face Knox, along with others, have suggested re-instituting visitation alongside the video calling system.