MONTPELIER — Vermont’s prison system is rolling out special e-mail and video visitation services for inmates, which advocates and corrections officials see as a boon but are raising concerns in some states where they are already in place about the cost to prisoners and other issues.
Vermont inmates at a private prison in Michigan with which the state has a contract, as well as in-state prisons in Newport and St. Johnsbury, recently were allowed to begin using the new e-mail system, said Mike Touchette, director of facility operations for the Corrections Department.
Inmates can go to a kiosk to use the system or can buy an electronic tablet that allows them to communicate with the system, which is run by JPay, a private company providing the prison e-mail service.
JPay also offers a video service — at $9.95 for a 30-minute session. Inmates also can download songs and ebooks.
Touchette said kiosks have been installed in all seven of Vermont’s prisons.
At the St. Johnsbury prison, superintendent Alan Cormier said, the electronic communications are especially helpful to inmates with families out of state. And he said the games, music, and videos inmates can get through the system can cut down on boredom.
The system is different from e-mail services offered to the general public outside the facilities in several respects, Touchette said. One is cost; senders pay 40 cents per e-mail.
The costs, which are higher in some states, trouble some inmate advocates, who say they can burden often low-income families.
The new tools are not without critics, who cite the costs, the fact that some jails are pushing to eliminate in-person visits in favor of video visits, and technical difficulties.