According to Stephen Montoya’s article “Jail’s digital visitation offers more contact, less complication,” the Sandoval County Detention Center is the latest jail to risk rehabilitation and safety in the hope of saving a few bucks.

Now, when families take the time and expense to visit their loved ones at the jail, they will visit with a computer screen.

Video-calling technology held the promise of strengthening the ties between people in jail and their families. But not when jails do what Sandoval County has done, and use that technology to replace in-person visits.

No longer will visitors be able to look into their loved one’s eyes, even though the parties are in the same building.

As one incarcerated person put it, the move to video calls eliminates “that fist bump, that ‘I love you’ smile or that one moment where you gotta shed that tear and the person on the other side of the glass tells you, ‘Hey, don’t worry, it’s gonna be ok.”

SCDC Director Gilbert Armendariz says that the shift will increase safety at the jail.

But in the long term, banning in-person visits is dangerous. Studies from Knox County, Tenn., and Travis County, Texas, have revealed that banning in-person visits fails to reduce contraband and increases misconduct.

Meanwhile, numerous studies have found that face-to-face visits reduce the likelihood that a person released from incarceration will land back in jail.

No short-term savings are worth this potential harm to correctional officials, incarcerated people and their families.

Peter Wagner

Executive director

Prison Policy Initiative