Local investigative newspaper The Frontier has done an excellent report on the new measures put in place by the Tulsa County Sheriff to regulate visitation at the Tulsa County Jail. These new cost-cutting measures are portrayed to the public as a necessary measure to help save the county money on staff. There are grave unintended consequences, however.
The restriction from six days of visitation down to only two makes it extremely hard on working families to see people who are incarcerated. Take into consideration a family who works an hourly job with a husband or son in jail. Removing four days of visitation narrows their options to take off work to visit their loved ones. Additionally, the story goes into great detail for those who have mental health issues that may be alleviated by visits from family.
Naturally, Tulsa County Jail has found a profit-driven solution to the problem which charges family members $0.50 a minute to do phone visitation with inmates.
When the visitation changes went into effect, they were expected to have a large impact on both the number of people using the HomeWAV service and the amount of money being brought in by the sheriff’s office.
And they did.
When the visitation changes were announced, TCSO spokeswoman Casey Roebuck said the expectation was that HomeWAV usage would “increase once the visitation changes go into effect. But we don’t yet know by how much.”
Data released by the sheriff’s office shows the changes resulted in thousands more uses of the paid HomeWAV system and thousands more dollars raised by the sheriff’s office.
Usage of the free video visitation units in the jail’s lobby plummeted, according to sheriff’s office data — from as many as 161 visits in June to just five total visits in August and 15 in September.
As expected, use of HomeWAV personal computer software and smartphone apps increased. Computer and app use averaged 11,205 uses per month during the three months prior to the change, but skyrocketed to 15,766 uses per month in August and September.
The result was thousands more dollars raised under the new system — TCSO generated $44,360.50 in August and $38,893 in September, compared to $29,933 per month in May, June and July.
The move to squeeze every available dime out of the jail population and their families is another troubling aspect of the private prison industry that is creeping into local jails. This is a trend we expect to continue in the coming months and years. The more lawmakers do to enact tax cuts and budget reforms, the more court costs and fees for crimes rise. Lawmakers and our legislature do very little to protect those who go into the criminal justice system and the only person who is obligated to protect you when you are charged with a crime is your lawyer.
Be sure to hire someone with years of experience and who focuses on criminal defense every day. Contact Bob Wyatt (405)234-5500 and Clint James (918) 500-7131.