LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Many face-to-face meetings and visits have gone virtual during the pandemic. The Michigan Department of Corrections has launched a new video visitation pilot program that will allow prisoners to connect with family and friends.
“This is something that’s been in the works for quite a while. Something the department had not done previously. Given the fact that we haven’t been able to offer in-person visits with prisoners since March 13, we want to make sure we’re able to continue to maintain that family and social connection; That’s so important to a prisoner’s rehabilitation and ultimate success once they are released,” said Chris Gautz, Michigan Department of Corrections public information officer.
The video visitation pilot began Monday at Jackson-based Parnall Correctional Facility and will expand to a second site in Jackson on Friday. From there, it will branch out to five other pilot sites around the state. The goal is to have full video visitation available at all 29 of the Michigan Department of Corrections facilities in the future.
“We recognize the importance of maintaining that strong family connections because it is so vitally important to not only their mental health but their success once they’re released,” Gautz said.
Family members and friends who were already on the in-person list will be approved for video visits.
The MDOT website links to, GTL, the company that provides the scheduling and video service and has information on what kinds of devices will and won’t work for the virtual visits.
Visits cost $3.20 per 20 minutes and must be paid ahead of time.
Family members schedule the visit online and that information is transferred to the prison facility.
“Video visits are not something we hadn’t done in the past for a variety of security reasons and technology reasons. But now, obviously, everyone is able to jump on Zoom or Microsoft Teams or what you have and live in this sort of virtual world.”
Gautz says video visits will not take the place of in-person visits, but the online scheduling will stick around after the pandemic passes.
“We don’t have a time right now where we can foresee as getting back to in-person visits. We ultimately will. I don’t want people to think this is what we’re doing in place of in-person visits and we won’t ever have them again. We will have in-person visits again, but right now, it’s just not safe for the family and friends, for the prisoners and for our staff to introduce so many people into our facility in a congregant setting,” Gautz said.