Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Will In-Person Visits Return to Jail, HOC?

They were ended in 2014. Proposal asks Sheriff and HOC to study reinstating them.

By - Mar 12th, 2022 11:54 am
Milwaukee County Jail and Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee County Jail and Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors will consider legislation this month that would make it the county’s policy to offer in-person visitation at its correctional facilities

The resolution, authored by Sup. Ryan Clancy, would also have the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office and the House of Correction report on how in-person visitation could be implemented in time for the board’s 2023 budget deliberations.

In 2014, the county board approved the first contract for video visitation services. It appears the county has not had in-person visitation since.

Recently, a new policy that would make video and phone communications free in the jail and HOC was debated by the board, as it simultaneously considered a new three-year contract with a private vendor for video and phone calls.

Sup. Clancy was the author of the resolution that sought to change the county’s position and begin offering what would amount to free phone and video calling for inmates in the jail and the HOC.

Speaking at a meeting of the board’s Judiciary, Safety and General Services Committee Thursday, Clancy said he and some of his colleagues on the board were surprised to learn that in-person visitation had been abandoned at county facilities long before the COVID-19 pandemic made in-person interactions a vector of disease spread.

“It had nothing to do with COVID and everything to do with punishment and profit,” he said.

Superintendent Chantell Jewell said the HOC is already working toward restoring in-person visitation. “We have already begun to look at this because it’s always been my intent since I came on as superintendent to reopen visitation,” she said.

Jewell was appointed in 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic prevented her from restoring visitation, she said.

A new Family Engagement Center is planned to be opened in the coming months, she told the committee. This will offer in-person visitation.

“We know, research tells us, that family dysfunction is one of the drivers of recidivism,” she said.

Jewell said there is some work that needs to be done at the HOC to make the facility ready for in-person visitation. There’s also the ongoing challenge of staffing faced by the county’s correctional facilities.

“We are having significant staffing challenges,” she said, “which is gonna slow down some of the things that we want to do here, at the HOC.”

The committee unanimously passed Clancy’s resolution. It will next be considered by the full board.

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