MAYVILLE - County lawmakers will question the sheriff this month on a grant for a video-conferencing system at the jail.
The Sheriff's Office applied for and has been awarded a $30,000 grant from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. If accepted by the legislature, the money would fund the creation of a video phone-conferencing system within the jail.
According to Sheriff Joe Gerace, such a system would ultimately increase efficiency and reduce costs at the jail.
The sheriff answered questions about the grant at the November meeting of the Public Safety Committee. The resolution to accept the grant passed the committee unanimously, but faced questions at the full legislature meeting later in the month.
With Gerace not present at the meeting, Democrats moved to have the resolution sent back to the Public Safety Committee.
In specific, Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk, said legislators had questions about how the system would work if installed. Additionally, Ahlstrom said legislators have heard that some members of the legal community are not fully in support of the system.
After some discussion, Republicans agreed to forward the resolution back to committee.
In committee, the sheriff explained that the system will allow inmates to visit with friends and family via a standard Internet connection. The system would be a secure site monitored by the corrections staff and would cost a fee to use, which Gerace said would hopefully generate revenue for the county.
"It has been used in facilities in other parts of the country with great success and hopefully it will alleviate some of the stress on our visiting room," Gerace said. "We get a lot of visitors and more than we can handle many times. I think this will be a preferred method of visiting for some instead of traveling 20-plus miles to the jail. They will be able to visit from afar."
Gerace also said the system could one day be expanded to be used by defense counsel, which would reduce the expense of transporting prisoners. However, to start, Gerace said the system will be for video visitation.
The Public Safety Committee will meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7. The full legislature will meet again at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14.