Sheriff's Inspector offers "off-site" solution to jail visitation problem

MILWAUKEE (WITI) – Some cameras are down at the Milwaukee County Jail — making it so jail visitors can only communicate with inmates via the phone. On Thursday, representatives from the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office went before Milwaukee County supervisors to discuss how to fix the problem.

For those that visit inmates at the Milwaukee County Jail — seeing an inmate’s face is now impossible. The only way visitors can communicate with inmates right now is via the phone.

“Until you’re in that situation, you don’t know how much that one visit a week really means. That one visit a week makes all the difference in the world when you’re behind bars,” a woman who visits a friend at the Jail said.

"Has it caused any major issues at this point? I can't say that it has. Do I expect if this goes long-term that there could be some noticeable issues? I certainly wouldn't deny that that's a very strong possibility," Inspector Richard Schmidt said.

Schmidt is second-in-command to Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. He says for three years, the Sheriff's Office has been seeking capital improvement money to overhaul the video visitation system and never got the requested funding.

Now that the system has completely broken down, the request for funding comes with some urgency.

Schmidt suggested a fix that comes with no tax levy.

The jail lobby visits through a new video system would be free. Revenue would come from "off-site" visitation.

"What it allows for is community members to have access via cell phone, phones, laptops, computers, any electronic device to literally hook-up a specific application that they can access. What isn't free is when that link is made between their technical device and the jail. The vendors do charge a per-minute call. I've seen anywhere from $.50 up to $2.00-per-minute based on vendors," Schmidt said.

Schmidt says a second option is a $1.5 million capital improvement expenditure for a new visitation system -- and based on discussions with the County Executive's Office, the first is the better option.

Schmidt says the visitation system with off-site options is being used in 18 different states.

He says in Wisconsin, St. Croix is using it.

Thursday's meeting between Sheriff's Office representatives and County supervisors was informational only. No action has yet been taken.