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Franklin County jail phasing out in-person visits

Michael Coghlan

One of Franklin County's two jails is phasing out in-person visitations and moving to an all-virtual system for incarcerated individuals to spend time with loved ones.

Instead of traditional visits once a week, people incarcerated at the Jackson Pike facility will receive two free 20-minute virtual visits a week. Additional visits can be purchased at low cost, the sheriff's office said.

Dr. Rosemary Martoma, a pediatrician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said the decision is a "devastating" move.

"I'm not opposed to video communications. I think they are a wonderful adjuvant, and families who are separated by incarceration need as many opportunities to connect with each other as possible," she said.

"The connectivity is notoriously bad, and there's no one to troubleshoot the problem, oftentimes, in between the calls. So if you end up having two calls and one of them gets dropped, you know you'll be paying for the third one."

Paul Bellair is a sociology professor and director of the Criminal Justice Research Center at Ohio State University. He said many jails are moving to virtual visitation as the criminal justice system grapples with widespread staffing shortages.

"In an ideal world, it would be fabulous if the individuals who are incarcerated could have contacts with their families, their children, their loved ones, and so forth," Bellair said.

As a positive, Bellair said, virtual visits eliminate the time and expense of traveling to the jail for visits.

Visitations in the downtown Columbus jail will remain in-person.

For more information, click here to visit the Franklin County Sheriff's Office website.

Matthew Rand is the Morning Edition host for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides daily talk show.