Durham County will now provide a video visiting option in its jail, which in one theory could increase visits and make it easier for people with handicaps, or the elderly, to visit with inmates. But unfortunately, there will be a temptation to move eventually to video-only visiting, which is the case in Wake County and other places.
It’s true that video visits are easier for jail personnel. But they have considerable drawbacks when they are the only option. As one prisoner advocate wrote in a News & Observer letter to the editor, “That’s the worst thing you can do for someone behind the wall and for their families. Cutting off face-to-face contact, even if there’s a piece of glass to speak through, removes people’s connection to the outside world and their hope for a better life.”
That rings true. Seeing a relative or a friend does lift spirits, and it’s a way, the only way really, of connecting with people other than guards and those in identical circumstances, namely prisoners. And it’s important to remember that some people in county jails after being arrested are there because they can’t afford bail. And when they go to trial, they may well be found not guilty. Punishing them by cutting off in-person visits feels like punishment in advance, and that’s just wrong in a system where they are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.