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Free Video Visits Increased At County Jail

Wendy Herky/ WFAE

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael announced Monday that his office is increasing the number of free video visits for friends and family members of inmates.

Last October, Mecklenburg County jail visits switched to video only and friends and family of inmates were allowed one free digital visit. Any additional visits cost $12.50 for 25 minutes. That created some backlash from those who called the video visits impersonal and costly. On WFAE’s Charlotte Talks, Sheriff Carmichael announced the change.

“I’ve heard some folks and we made sure we are able to do this, our system our staffing, we are going to double the visits, two free visits that you can come and see your loved ones and it is scheduled,” Carmichael said. You know that we are not gonna turn you away.”

In the past inmates were allowed one visitor a week at no cost. The video visits can take place multiple times, any day of the week. Carmichael says visitations have gone up by nearly 26 percent.

Mecklenburg County assistant public defender Toussaint Romain called the video visits a money-making operation for Global Tel Link, the company that paid for the installation of the $1.7 million system at the jail. Romain says Charlotte’s most vulnerable people are being exploited by the charges.

“It’s a regressive tax,” Romain said. “We’re charging the people who can afford it the least the most to have the basic human need of communicating and sharing with each other. One out of three who use this service go into debt trying to maintain some personal contact with their family.”

But Sheriff Carmichael says the video system is more efficient and makes it possible for inmates to see their family and friends more often. He says they also have shorter video visits, 10-minute sessions that cost $5. 

Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.