This is a row of new video visitation monitors available at the Sandoval County Detention Center. Video calls from outside the facility cost family members $9.99, which in turn pays for the system.
(Stephen Montoya/ Rio Rancho Observer)

BERNALILLO — Family members of Sandoval County Detention Center inmates have the opportunity to visit them from the comfort of home.

Thanks to a new video visitation system installed at SCDC by Securus Technologies, family members of detainees can visit with their loved ones from just about anywhere.

The family members pay for the $300,000 system every time they block a 30-minute slot to visit with an inmate.

SCDC Director Gilbert Armendariz said each 30-minute slot costs its user $9.99.

“The primary reason we went with this type of system is it cuts the flow of traffic down at the facility and allows family members to stay home and visit their family on the inside,” Armendariz said.

Family members can pay for a time slot anytime throughout the day, including weekends.

“This system also reduces the escorts for our officers, which means they escort an inmate from their pod to the visitation area,” he said.

According to Armendariz, this increases safety in case an inmate has a bad visit with a family member or was just given bad news.

“It can become a tense situation and could possibly lead to a situation we would rather avoid,” he said.

The old-style visitation system in which people spoke through a window only had room for one person to visit at a time. Now, Armendariz said, a video visitation allows 10 family members in a room to visit with one inmate at the same time.

All video calls are scheduled and each video conference is monitored, outgoing and incoming, by SCDC staff.

“We didn’t have that kind of capability before,” Armendariz said. “Now we can monitor each visit.”

An iPhone is required to attain the app used and billed for each visit, he said.

Families can go to the jail visitation area to make video calls for free from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on week days. Conference calls from outside the jail carry the charge but can be made from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on any day.

Inmates and visitors will no longer interact through the windows, even if the visitors come to the jail.

In the 13 pods at SCDC, each has two video monitors for inmates to use.

“If there are any inappropriate visits going on, we can cancel the visit immediately,” Armendariz said. “However, attorney visits are private; we do not monitor those.”

He said the way the phone system works at SCDC, family members have to pay anyway.

“So this way they can at least see each other,” he said.

Another digital program that will start soon is a Lexus Nexus computer program that will have a copy of the inmate handbook and allow inmates to apply for jobs and file grievances.

“The most important part of this system is how it allows our inmates to still have interaction with their families and kids,” Armendariz said. “Inmates can still see their kids grow up and have more of a meaningful relationship than what was possible before.”