MOUNT VERNON — A new video visitation system at the Knox County Jail is scheduled to start operating Tuesday, Knox County Sheriff David Shaffer informed the Knox County Commissioners Thursday.

The video system will be able to connect with families in their homes through an online connection, he said. There will be two video kiosks stationed in the jail lobby, and two more in the inmates dorm area. It will also allow children to be part of the visitation.

“I guess the benefit to friends and family who want to visit (by video) is that it can be done pretty much anytime,” Shaffer said, adding the video visitation system will be especially beneficial to those unable to visit the jail on their own. There will be a cost to the inmate to use the video system, but in-person jail visits will still not involve a charge.

Commission President Teresa Bemiller asked if there were any way the kiosks could be damaged. Shaffer responded first with a rhetorical question: “Is anything jail proof?”

“You know why the (jail) sprinkler got damaged?” he also asked. “Because they thought there was a 9-volt battery in it and they wanted to make a lighter out of it.”

Currently, the jail has 98 inmates, near its capacity of approximately 100 inmates, of which 81 currently are men and 17 are women, an overall number that includes five federal inmates, all male. Currently, the jail is being impacted by the government shutdown because the county receives about $60 in federal funds per inmate, Shaffer said. The money that isn’t coming in following January billings, with the last funds received being in December, County Administrator Jason Booth said.

Shaffer said plans to expand the inmate wristband identification system are also still underway, now projected to happen in March. The system is already used for medical passes. The expansion will involve tracking inmate movements from one location to another, along with logging items given to inmates like razors and clippers. Once per shift, all wristbands are logged in. There were 11 new employees at the jail last year so they are being brought up to speed on procedures including new ones implemented, he said.

Shaffer also stated in his report:

•The county’s Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) system serving 911 was down Monday night through Tuesday morning due to an issue involving an aging server, though officers and dispatchers still communicated by phones and radio. The county is already using a new phone system for 911 and is also looking at upgrading CAD, the current cost of which is about $400,000.

•Eight people were recently placed on suicide watch, a higher-than-normal number. Those on suicide watch are evaluated by Behavioral Health Partners. But inmates have figured out that if you’re placed on suicide watch, you are taken from the main dorm area and placed in holding cells in the booking area.

•He is soon to release statistics from last year’s annual report, which will show when released that there were fewer countywide cases of vandalism, theft and burglaries in 2018 than the previous year, while there was a “big uptick” in mental health/emotionally disturbed calls. Those calls have been steadily on the rise since 2014, with 26 reported that year, 25 in 2015, 32 in 2016, 37 in 2017, and 50 last year. The overall number of prison inmates also increased to 2,070 last year from 1,920 in 2017.

•Heard that he is soon to issue a press release involving a scam that nearly bilked a woman out of $27,000, by telling her she was to receive money, but then informing her she had been overpaid and needed to send money back through her savings account. The woman called the sheriff’s office to launch an investigation.


Larry Di Giovanni: 740-397-5333 or and on Twitter, @mountvernonnews




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