Responding to changes in routine brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the Warren County Regional Jail has bought videoconferencing equipment that will enable attorneys to hold virtual meetings with their jailed clients.
Earlier this month, the Kentucky Supreme Court issued an emergency order that canceled nearly all in-person court hearings through April 10, leading to dozens of postponed criminal proceedings in Warren County’s court system.
Emergency hearings, domestic violence hearings and criminal evidentiary hearings are not affected by the order, but both the ripple effect of the Supreme Court’s edict and the jail’s interest in minimizing the potential exposure to the coronavirus in the facility led to the purchase last week of the videoconferencing equipment.
Warren County Jailer Stephen Harmon said the equipment has been installed in four rooms for remote attorney visits, and two mobile carts have also been put to use.
The equipment also allows judges to conduct virtual hearings.
“We’re working closely with the judges and prosecutors to continue to have hearings as much as possible without taking inmates to the justice center,” Harmon said. “We’re all managing this disaster as best we can.”
Under the system, attorneys contact the jail during regular business hours to schedule a 30-minute virtual visit with their clients.
This program is not a part of the jail’s contract with Securus Technologies, which has installed inmate kiosk systems in the jail to facilitate remote visits between inmates and their relatives.
Logistical issues that arose in the wake of the pandemic led to the delay of implementing the video visitation system, which takes the place of in-person family visits.
Each friend or family scheduling a remote visit is required to pay a fee of $7.95 plus tax. Part of the proceeds go to fund jail programs.
Harmon said that program, which was to have launched March 19, is now expected to go live Friday.
“That’s a new revenue stream for the jail, and it also gives another way for friends and family to visit inmates remotely so we can accommodate folks who can’t get here,” Harmon said.
Nine cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in Warren County, but Harmon said no inmates have presented with symptoms matching the viral respiratory illness, which has been a driver in the reduction of the inmate population.
While the jail routinely housed more than 700 inmates at the start of the month, the population has decreased to 586 inmates as of Wednesday, Harmon said.
Much of the decrease stems from the jail not accepting inmates ordered to serve their sentences on weekends or inmates transferred from other facilities, Harmon said.
“Inmates are cleaning their housing areas, and deputies are cleaning two or three times a shift,” Harmon said, adding that deputies who move about the facility to check on inmates have been instructed to clean the doorknobs to each cell as they pass.