The less contact, the better at county jail

The procedure for visiting inmates at Middlesex County jail has moved from the Stone Age to cutting edge with the introduction of a new video visitation system.

As of Nov. 1, visitors to the Middlesex County Adult Correction Center in North Brunswick will now be linked to inmates via a phone and monitor, cutting off the opportunity for physical contact, with the exception of specially permitted occasions. Calls can be monitored and recorded by corrections officers, allowing them to cut off conversations and thwart illegal activity, and gang activity in particular. The system is the first of its kind in the state.

“It is a tool if they’re planning some illegal activity on that visit. We can hear it, see it, record it and stop it,” Warden Edward Cicchi said.

Before, the jail simply allowed visitors and inmates to meet at tables in a crowded room, where contraband could be passed on quite easily. At times, two officers might be responsible for monitoring a room of over 150 people at a time, an overwhelming ratio that resourceful criminals could take advantage of.

It may seem surprising when you hear about inmates getting busted with drugs or weapons in a jail, a place that is theoretically sealed off from the outside world. However, you can never underestimate how devious criminals can be.

When the space beneath a postage stamp has been shown to be large enough to sneak drugs into jails, allowing a quick handshake or a hug makes it all too easy. The less contact, the better.

Every day that something as simple as a 3-inch nail or a toothbrush can be smuggled in, the jail’s population and guards are at risk. And when inmates can still access illegal drugs in jail, it completely defeats the purpose of why society put them there to begin with.

In addition to the obvious safety advantages of the new system, Freeholder Christopher Rafano promises it will save money in the long run. Previously, eight officers were needed to handle visitation, with their jobs divided into monitoring the front desk, manning the control booth, pat-down duties, and watching the visitors and inmates meet. Now, five fewer people will be needed to run the process, meaning less overtime and the opportunity to reassign officers.

We’ll chalk this new system up as a great example of progress through technology.