COEUR d'ALENE - For the first time, the Kootenai County jail is allowing more than two visits a week per inmate, though for a cost.
To access more than the standard two free half-hour sessions in one week, a visitor or inmate must pay 25 cents per minute for extra visits, or $7.50 per half hour.
"For those who can afford to have more visits, they can pay for those," said Capt. Kim Edmondson.
Clergy and attorney visits are still unlimited.
The extra visits relate to new visitation technology installed at the jail this month. The county commissioners recently signed a contract to use Telmate equipment, which expedites visitor sign-up.
"It's common throughout other (detention) facilities," Edmondson said. "We have to make it more efficient here."
To acquire the costly technology, though, it needed to generate revenue on top of simplifying jail procedure, she said.
"If we were just to do it for staff efficiency, it would have been a very expensive process to go through," she said.
Hence the charge for extra visits.
Telmate has provided new equipment at no charge to the county, Edmondson said. Under their arrangement, 50 percent of revenue generated by extra visits and Telmate system fees will go to the provider.
The rest will go to the county, with some going toward commissary items like inmate bedding and clothing.
"Those are things we then don't have to use out of the budget, so it's not a cost to taxpayers," Edmondson said.
Under the Telmate system, folks can sign up for visits online at Telmate.com, by calling the provider's hotline at (866) 516-0115, or by using the new Telmate kiosk in the jail lobby.
There is a user fee for Telmate services.
The system allows folks to sign up at any time, Edmondson said, unlike before, when they had to drop by the jail at specific hours to sign up at the staffed window.
"The next phase of this will be Internet based visitation, where people will be able to visit from home," Edmondson said of using online communication.
The efficiency of the new sign-up system frees up staff to attend to other jail needs, Edmondson added.
It also allows for 16 daily visiting times, up from the previous six.
"It was very staff intensive," she said of the previous sign-up process. "With the new system that we have, it's taken away a lot of that hands-on time."
Telmate has also installed a new inmate telephone system at the jail. Visitors communicate with inmates through visitation monitors in the lobby.
Inmates can also now purchase commissary items through the visitation monitors.
Visitors can provide money for inmate accounts through Telmate's hotline and website, instead of going through jail staff. The kiosk accepts cash and debit/credit card payments.
"As soon as visitors get used to the new system, I anticipate it's going to work very well," Edmondson said.
The Shoshone County jail has never considered charging for extra visits, but the county doesn't have the population to warrant extra visits or using Telmate technology, said Capt. Rick Smith.
"We couldn't justify doing it," he said.
Lt. Jay Hughes with the Spokane County jail said his county might be looking at using similar visitation technology down the road.
There has never been a discussion about charging for visits, he said.
"I've heard of the concept of doing something to have visitors schedule visits, but I've never heard of anybody charging," he said.
For more information about the Kootenai jail, go to www.kcsheriff.com.
Idaho Jail Standards requires each inmate, except those restricted as a result of disciplinary action, to have one hour of visitation each week.
There wasn't a demand for extra visits before, Edmondson added, but folks have been eager to sign up for them already.
"People are signing up for visits quite regularly, and they know that they're paying for those extra visits," she said.