Aiken Co. Detention Center to switch to webcam visitations

News 12 First at Five / Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. -- Cpt. Nick Gallam has been administrator of the Aiken County Detention Center for almost a year. His new idea will shake things up with webcam visitations.

"I commonly refer to it as something like Skype or, you know, a video chat that you would, you know, sit down on your laptop and have a video chat with somebody," he told News 12.

Right now, Gallam says with a population of about 300, there are 200 visitors every week. It's a lot to manage for the jail staff, but computers make things easier.

"It's in a hardened, vandal-proof box that on one end the inmate would sit down in front of a monitor and then their family members would sit down on the other and have a video chat," he said.

All a visitor will have to do is make an account on the website Securus. They can chat with their inmate for free using computers in the jail's lobby. For only $20 for 20 minutes, visitors can even use the service at home with their own computer and webcam.

For those who argue the system is impersonal, Gallam says current visitations are similarly impersonal. Visitors see inmates face to face, but a layer of plexiglass is between them.

"One thing about inmate is if there's a system, they're going to try to circumvent that system. You know, their needs, or their necessity to get contraband into the facility, are big," Gallam said.

Prisoners test their luck, he says. He showed News 12 where they've had to re-caulk the seals of the glass barrier where visitors have tried to sneak contraband, like drugs and maybe weapons, inside.

Come next year, however, the old visitation rooms will be a thing of the past at no cost to the taxpayer. The private company will install the system for free. It makes its money through people who use the service at home.

The Aiken County Detention Center will look to implement the new system in the first quarter of next year.

Webcams are already used at the Webster Detention Center in Richmond County. The captain there tells News 12 they love it.


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