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When Mayor Vince Gray cut the ribbon on the D.C. Jail’s new Video Visitation Center last week, he said the new building would be more convenient for visitors. But when the center actually opened on Wednesday, visitors weren’t convinced.
René Saunders, 41, couldn’t even “visit” her fiance because his cellblock mates were protesting the new policy by refusing visits. “They don’t want it either because this is ridiculous,” she said.
The center, located in a building a block away from the jail, allows visitors to talk to inmates over a videoconferencing system. Now that it’s open, the Department of Corrections has eliminated the traditional physical visits, where inmates and their visitors are separated only by a Plexiglas wall. The Washington Post editorial board has criticized the new policy, saying that keeping physical visits as an option would help inmates prepare to re-enter society.
Ciara Jackson, 20, arrived at the center to visit her boyfriend. She had brought her five-year-old daughter to the center, but was disappointed that they wouldn’t be able to see him in person.
“It’s not fair to her,” says Jackson. “We see them through this thick old glass and talk to them over this nasty phone. Now y’all gonna make us talk to them over a screen, like come on now? That’s not fair.”
Photo by Sudip Bhattacharya