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Marquette County Jail moves to video visitation system

Marquette County Sheriff Greg Zyburt uses a video visitation system in the visitation area of the Marquette County Jail. The video visitation system came to the jail in March, making the Marquette County Jail the first jail in the Upper Peninsula to offer video visitation. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — The Marquette County Jail is the first jail in the Upper Peninsula to make the move to a video visitation system, with the system officially coming online in March.

Visitors can use the video visitation remotely on a webcam-equipped computer, cellphone or tablet, or come to the jail to use the system during regular visitation hours.

The remote visitation service greatly expands the hours available for visitation, officials said.

“This (system) is expanding the amount of hours of visitation, it used to be limited to certain days and certain times,” Marquette County Sheriff Greg Zyburt said, explaining that the in-person visitation had been limited to certain days and times due to the extensive staffing needs.

Zyburt added that the new system makes it easier for family members who wish to visit with a person who is incarcerated, especially those who may live far away or have schedules that didn’t align well with the more limited available visitation hours previously.

“Now, they can do it from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week, and it’s just very convenient for the person who wants to visit with the inmate. If grandma is in California and wants to visit, they go online, they set up an account … and they schedule the time,” Zyburt said.

Those who wish to visit someone who is incarcerated at the Marquette County Jail can schedule a video visitation online, with a 24-hour advance notice of the visitation. The system also notifies people who are incarcerated of the visitation once scheduled.

“A lot of times, the inmates don’t know if their family is going to show up on one of those visit days, now they know, they get notice on their screen that they’re having a visit,” Lt. Brian Steede of the Marquette County Community Corrections Detention Center said.

The video visitation system can give children opportunities to visit with a parent who is incarcerated, as children are not allowed to visit the Marquette County Jail in person due to safety concerns, Zyburt said.

It also gives people a chance to connect with a person who is incarcerated on days that regular visitation hours might not be held: holidays, birthdays, graduations and other special events.

Zyburt and Steede said they hope the new system and the additional visiting opportunities can help with the mental and emotional well-being of those who are incarcerated, as it can give them more regular access to contact with loved ones.

“(Visitors) don’t have to travel back and forth, and as far as their mental health, I think it helps,” Steede said.

Zyburt said that while some people incarcerated at the Marquette County Jail initially had concerns about the new system, they have become more comfortable with the system as they used it.

Furthermore, Steede and Zyburt said the video visitation system, which has a phone receiver for the audio portion, is currently cheaper than a phone call. If a person wishes to visit remotely, they can schedule a time and have a 20-minute visit at a cost of $6.99.

Unlike in-person visitations, which had been limited to two 20-minute visits each week, the video visitations can be scheduled as often as desired by those who wish to visit a person who is incarcerated.

Vistors can still come to the jail during the regular visitation hours, but the visitations will be via video, rather than the partitioned system previously used, Zyburt and Steede said.

If a person comes to the jail during normal visitation hours and uses the video visitation system there, the two 20-minute visits are free of charge, as the video visitation at the jail is taking the place of regular in-person visitation.

The video visitation makes things safer for staff, visitors and people who are incarcerated, as it reduces the need for a staff member to transport and supervise a person who is incarcerated during the visiting hours, Zyburt said.

“That’s one of the main things for us is the safety of it, and security of it,” Zyburt said.

He said the system is very secure and constantly monitored to prevent any abuses of the system. Meetings between attorneys and people who are incarcerated will not be monitored.

“It’s a very secure tablet-type of system inside of each one of the blocks,” Zyburt said, noting that people who are in jail do the video visitations inside of their cells.

Furthermore, the installation and administration of the video visitation system come at no cost to the county, Zyburt and Steede said.

The video visitation system is administered by the same company, Securus, that administers the jail’s phone system and revenue from the phone system was used to pay for the video visitation system’s installation.

Zyburt said the county will eventually begin to see revenue from the video visitation system once it has paid for itself.

Overall, Zyburt and Steede feel that the new video visitation program will improve safety, security and well-being of all parties involved.