BOISE -- An expanded Internet program at the Ada County Jail has inmates eager to go online, and it's expected to make money for the county while improving visitation services.
Those in the Ada County Jail have already been allowed virtual visits with friends and family through an older system. Now, they can pay for Internet, even access a new type of social media specifically for inmates through the Telmate system, based out of Ontario, Oregon.
Seanette Cole is among those who have taken advantage of Telmate since its installation.
Cole, who's 43, was charged with burglary and grand theft. She spent about a month in jail, and now hopes to be released next week. She's been using Telmate to video chat with her sister, who lives in Sacramento, Calif.
"I've been visiting with my sister Tricia," Cole told KTVB. " ... Because there's no other way for she and I to have contact except for letter writing. We don't do the phone thing because it's too expensive on the phone."
Cole says it's less expensive for her to use the Telmate system because she gets two free video visits a week (after that, the price goes up to $15 per visit).
EMAIL, VIDEO, INTERNET, SOCIAL MEDIA
There's other new options she can access too. The Telmate system allows Cole to check her email, watch videos and access approved Internet sites, many of which are educational or focus on news and religion. There's even a new kind of social media developed specifically for inmates in jail.
Ada County Sheriff's Deputy Rich Michaelson says that feature has been particularly popular.
"Many of the inmates now are utilizing what's considered a wall post, where they'll post their photos and their comments to friends and family," Michaelson said.
Of course, time is money, and inmates doing time have to pay to use these features. Internet fees cost 10 cents per minute, while emails go for 35 cents each. Each pictures cost 45 cents for an inmate to send.
Facial recognition software and other tracking features are built into the system to prevent unauthorized access of Internet sites and other problematic behavior.
COUNTY EXPECTS TO MAKE MONEY
Telmate installed 53 of the new machines in the Ada County Jail in the past month. The company paid for all of it -- with Ada County estimated to make more than $12,000 in yearly profits from inmates eager to log on.
The jail's previous video visiting system included smaller netbooks, and maintenance actually cost the county money, according to officials with the sheriff's office.
Yet, while some might object to giving inmates Internet privileges, Seanette Cole says it's important to remember that digital communication is a key link to the outside world for those behind bars
Asked what she'd say to critics of the program, Cole was quick to offer her defense of expanded Internet.
"It is our fault that we did what we did, but it's not our fault that we want to know what's going on in society," Cole said. "We still want to be human."