Tenn. jail plans visitation via video

County contracts for system to avoid contact, contraband

By Henry Bailey
The Commercial Appeal 

DESOTO, Tenn. — A contract for jailhouse video-visitation operations that officials hope will slam the door on forbidden items has gotten the unanimous approval of the DeSoto Board of Supervisors.

Best of all - it's at virtually no ongoing cost to taxpayers.

"We're not paying anything - they're paying us," board attorney Tony Nowak said of the deal OK'd on Monday with Securus Technologies Inc., a provider of inmate communications services.

Under the planned system, visitors will go to the current jail once inmates are moved to a new facility under construction, and the visitors will interact with prisoners from there by video.

"There won't be any chance of narcotics or other contraband getting into the jail that way," Sheriff Bill Rasco said.

The phone and video-visitation system is tied with the $16 million new jail project, a 65,000-square-foot facility of concrete and steel on 52 acres off U.S. 51 South that will be ready to receive its first inmates in October.

Under the five-year pact, Securus pays the county $100,000 for starters, and the s heriff's department gets half of the fees inmates pay for phone calls.

"Their first phone call is free; after that, they pay," Nowak said.

"Securus provides all the hardware," he added. "It's a great deal for the county."

"We're ready for it," Rasco said of the system. "When it's installed, there won't be any need for the public in the new jail facility."

The new jail has special rooms for medical-intake assessments and attorney-consultation visits.

"Video systems for inmate visitation are all over the country; this is just the start for DeSoto County," Rasco said Tuesday.

He said it's a convenient mode for families, with "no waiting in line."

During later action on bids for inmate furnishings at the new jail, Vanessa Lynchard, county director of administrative services and procurement, said the county specified "clear" mattresses that make it hard to hide things.

"There was an inmate who was able to open his mattress to hide contraband and then sew it shut," Lynchard said. "We have to stay ahead of these crafty criminals."

The winning bid of $16,557 for "clear-view" mattresses came from the Bob Barker Co. Progressive Construction of Hernando got the $12,877 contract to install a total of $121,091 - spread among several vendors - in bunk beds, chairs, shelves and other basic items for inmates.

In its first phase, the jail can house 272 inmates, easing crowding at the old 395-bed downtown Hernando jail. With later expansions, the new jail will be able to hold at least 1,000, both pretrial detainees and inmates.

"We expect we'll have an open house for the public during the first week in October, then we'll start moving inmates in," Rasco said.

Copyright 2012 The Commercial Appeal, Inc.

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