PA State Prison System Turning to Video Chats to Keep People Connected During Pandemic

March 18, 2020

 

For the first time ever, Pennsylvania residents will be able video chat with loved ones who are serving state prison sentences.

 

The program, scheduled to launch by the end of the week, is part of a larger plan designed to better connect people in prison with their family and friends on the outside during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

The spread of COVID-19 led the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to temporarily suspend face-to-face visits at all 25 state prisons.

 

“Everyone in the community is kind of scratching their heads. It feels almost surreal.” said Secretary John Wetzel in an interview. “Add on the tension of being incarcerated. There’s just another layer of angst. Part of our plan has to be to address that angst.”

 

Through the department’s website, people will be able to sign up for a 45-minute video visit. They’ll be able to access the session on their computer, smartphone or tablet.

 

Under the plan, inmates will also be given five free phone calls, which usually cost roughly six cents per minute. They’ll also be able to send some emails for free.

 

Khalif Hooker has an uncle serving a life sentence at a state prison more than three hours from his home in North Philadelphia. He said being able to video chat with him will help bridge the communication gap during the pandemic. And save him gas money.

 

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