By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – For the past two years, going to the Lewis County Jail to visit an inmate has cost money, but that’s about to change.
The facility installed an Internet-based system for visitation that allowed for family or friends to avoid the drive to Chehalis to see their loved ones, by logging in and paying a fee.
The same technology is used however, with inmates chatting from their cell areas to a video screen while their guests are viewing another screen in the lobby area of the same building. The cost is 50 cents per minute.
Jail Chief Kevin Hanson said he hopes free visits in the jail lobby can begin again in mid-January. It will take some programming changes by the vendor, he said.
Part of the reasoning for the switch, Hanson said, is he got advice during a course on incarceration legalities he attended that suggested charging money to people who come in to the jail to see inmates was a practice on somewhat shaky legal ground.
When he and other administrators of the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office shared the news with the county board of commissioners earlier this month, Sheriff Rob Snaza said it was something they’d been talking about doing for awhile. The sheriff’s office runs the jail.
“It only makes sense,” Snaza said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Defendants can be sentenced to up to 364 days in the jail. For those awaiting trial, their stay in some cases has been even longer.
Hanson is aiming for the change to take place around the second full week in January.
For background, read Northwest Public Radio’s Jan. 13, 2015 piece about the Homewav video visitation system as used in Lewis County, here