You don’t have to drive to the jail in Virginia Beach to visit your loved ones. Here’s why

The inmates get a chance to use these tablets for virtual visitation at any time instead of waiting for the weekly in-person visitation. (Southside Daily Photo/courtesy of Virginia Beach Sheriff's office)
The inmates get a chance to use these tablets for virtual visitation at any time instead of waiting for the weekly in-person visitation. (Southside Daily Photo/courtesy of Virginia Beach Sheriff’s office)

Inmates at the Virginia Beach Correctional Center now have access to 250 “secure, correctional-grade” tablets to use for a wide range of services, including web-based visitation.

During the past six months a contractor by the name of GTL installed the 250 tablets, docking stations and other related infrastructure throughout the correctional center, according to the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office.

GTL is the same company that provides the phone service needed for the correctional center, said Kathy Hieatt, sheriff’s office spokeswoman.

The tablets come at no cost to the tax payer, she said.

GTL made the initial investment for the tablets and will recoup their funding through the usage fees.

Premium features on the tablets starts at 3 cents a minute, web visitation is 25 cents a minute.

The premium features available to inmates include educational and entertainment resources such as books, movies, music, games, news and the ability to order canteen items and “fresh favorites” meals.

On-site visitation will remain free, jail officials said.

GTL will get 75 percent of those funds while the other 25 percent goes back into the sheriff’s office, Hieatt said.

The sheriff’s office has a five-year contract with GTL for the tablets, and at the end of that period they can reevaluate the cost structure if needed, Hieatt said.

The tablets went live on Jan. 24 and according to the sheriff’s office there have since been approximately 2,000 web-based visitation sessions and 17,000 messages shared.

General population inmates were previously limited to one 25-minute visit per week because of the number of inmates, staffing and the size of the correctional center, officials said. Currently, the correctional center houses 1,400 inmates in 77 housing units.

Visitors are required to schedule visits and come to the jail but now those visits can take place on-demand as frequently as visitors choose and from anywhere in the world via any web-enabled device, officials said.

The tablets will eventually be integrated into the jail’s Offender Management System, enabling inmates to electronically submit paperwork, such as correspondences and requests for medical care.

Inmates access those services through pre-approved apps and cannot freely access or search the internet.

“These tablets have been implemented successfully at other jails throughout Virginia and the country,” Sheriff Ken Stolle said. “Public safety remains our first priority and, as with all activity within the jail, we will be monitoring what occurs on the tablets to ensure public safety and a safe environment for the inmates and staff.”

Additional information on the tablets is available at www.gtl.net.

Additional information on how to create an account and communicate with an inmate is available at www.gettingout.com and via the GettingOut app.

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