We hear a lot about novel use cases of unified communications such as telemedicine, smart-city coordination and remote hearings. But one of the most utilitarian and least expected ways that UC serves communities is behind bars. In addition to improving communication between guards and other facility personnel, UC can enhance security and nourish the well-being of inmates. Here's how:
1. Better staff communication
The first and most obvious way UC can serve correctional institutions is by enhancing the communication capabilities of the staff responsible for managing and overseeing the facilities. Secure UC provides access to every communication channel that an employee might need. For instance, administrative assistants and clerks can leverage interactive voice response (IVR) to direct incoming calls. Wardens and other facility overseers can rely on secure VoIP supplemented with audio conferencing tools as a means of getting in touch with state or federal officials as needed. Likewise, facilitators of enrichment programs such as post-secondary educational courses will have the tools they need to be in quick contact with other staff.
2. Less transporting of inmates
Several states have found it to be in their best interest to cut back on the amount of inmate transportation by using video conferencing for hearings. The Michigan Department of Corrections, for instance, has been relying on video conferencing in correctional facilities for parole board interviews and immigration hearings, as well as for telemedicine purposes, since 2004. In doing so, they've managed to cuts costs that are spent trying to securely transport inmates to face-to-face hearings. Instead, these sessions can be held within the safe confines of the incarceration facility. This saves time and money while improving security practices.
3. Virtual visits
"Inmates who stay in contact with a support system have a greater chance of thriving."
According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, visiting inmates in correctional institutions is highly encouraged. The ODRC noted that inmates who stay in contact with a support system have a greater chance of thriving upon release. Moreover, the ODRC wrote that visits could serve as incentive for good behavior while incarcerated, as inmates with a disciplinary status have many more restrictions.There are, however, several drawbacks to these visits. Firstly, visits are among the more common ways in which illegal items are smuggled into facilities. Secondly, inmates who do not have frequent visitors, perhaps because their loved ones are in a different state, may become depressed.
One way that UC can address both of these problems is by making it easier for inmates to hop on a video call with friends and family. This eliminates the possibility of contraband smuggling, and it removes geographical distance as a barrier to visitation. While it's not necessarily a replacement for in-person visits, it is a strong supplement, and a viable alternative when there are no other options. As such, it can play an important role in restorative justice.