The city will make novel use of its libraries with a video visitation program designed to ease the difficulty of visiting inmates at Rikers Island and the city’s other hard to reach jails.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced Wednesday that the city will spend $600,000 to implement the program. The video-visitation services will be unrolled throughout 2017 at 22 libraries across the five boroughs, so that friends and family of inmates may see their loved ones more frequently and more easily.
“In order to visit an incarcerated person at Rikers Island, friends and family members usually spend an entire day of travel for a one-hour visit,” Mark-Viverito said at a news conference. The process to visit an inmate in person also requires rigorous security searches and wait times.
Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative that has been critical of districts across the country that are replacing in-person visitation with video visitation said he commends New York City for how it is utilizing this technology.
“This is positive because they are using it as a supplement. Video is not the same as in-person visitation, but it’s sometimes easier. In some cases I’ve seen it often means banning in-person visits and pushing people to pay for contact. That is not what this appears to be, and it acknowledges how hard it is to get to the jail,” Wagner told Metro.
He added that the cost of the program seems reasonable compared to other instances where he’s seen “crazy numbers” for places that are much smaller than New York City.
Visitors will be able to make a Skype-like call in the comfort of a private area at a library and with the resources of the library at hand. The incarcerated individual may also choose from a select number of books to read to their visitors.
"Reading is a critically important bonding experience for children and their parents, and Brooklyn Public Library's TeleStory program makes it possible for families separated by incarceration to read a book together as if they were in the same room," said Brooklyn Public Library President and CEO Linda E. Johnson in a news release.