Technical problems with the video system at the Bartow County Jail may cause problems for those visiting inmates.
Since last fall, ongoing issues with the hardware and software in the 125 monitors — 75 for inmates and 50 for visitors — left both sides frustrated.
“Basically what they are running into now is, sometimes they will come in and they’ll sign them up and they’ll go to a monitor, and it won’t work. So they may have to come back out and knock on the window, and they’ll have to send them to another one or something like that. I know that’s aggravating for them,” Bartow County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Gary Dover said. “That’s normally what the issue is, one won’t work or it will come on and start working and it will quit working or start pixelating, and they will come back out and say, ‘Hey, this thing ain’t working.’ Then the deputy will have to go back to the list, find them one that’s open. Then they’ll have to send them over there, go back to the computer, reconnect it to the inmate’s again.”
Installed as part of the jail expansion more than four years ago, the video system features monitors and telephone-like handsets.
“When you have a contract that big — because it all came in with the jail expansion — so when you have a $30 million contract and all that stuff is bid out, a lot of times what you will end up with is akin to buying a house in a subdivision,” Dover said. “A contractor comes in and builds all these houses so when you move in, everything looks good, but two years from now, you realize that he’s put a contractor-grade washing machine and a contractor-grade refrigerator in that may last you four or five years and then the homeowner is going to have to replace it because it just really ain’t up to standards.”
Under the contract, the hardware was provided by SWC in Alabama, while a separate company launched the software. Since the installation, the software company was sold to a phone business.
Pinning down either has proven difficult.
“When we started having issues, one company would point at the other one, and this one would point back at that one and say, ‘It’s their issue,’” Dover said, adding that the county was unable to pursue legal action because the statute of limitations expired.
Because a new system is an estimated $350,000, the county is exploring options to cut costs.
“What we’re hoping to do is bid out our phone contract and, through that, receive a technology grant from one of these phone companies to replace that,” Dover said. “What they do is take some of the commission off these phones over a period of three or four years and they pay for that technology, and it doesn’t cost the county a dime plus it lets us get this going, get this done.”
Setbacks in other areas have delayed the administration’s ability to place the project out for bid.
Dover said the food service provider was fired early this year. The same company oversaw the commissary service company, which was fired 12 weeks ago.
Once the video visitation system is operating as it should, Dover said the process will be “more convenient” for visitors.
“The reason we had to [move to video visitation] is because, the way this building was built, if we ever get 1,100 people in here, even at 600, the building was not set up for that turnover in visitation,” he said. “… If I get the video visitation working like it should work, like it should have been designed to work from the beginning, which it hasn’t, then we’ll actually be able to compress some of that time down and still give everybody ample time. They’ll be able to schedule visits from home and all kinds of stuff. That’s what’s not working in this system. That’s what we are trying to get to.”
Visitation is one of the services the jail is required by law to provide — two meals per day and access to mass media also are required.
The Bartow County Jail visitation schedule is 9 to 11 a.m., noon to 4:30 p.m. and 8:30 to 11 p.m. seven days a week. An inmate may receive four visits per week with a total of eight visitors per week. An inmate can receive only one visit per day, and visits last 25 minutes per session.