MAYVILLE - A grant resolution for a new video-conferencing system at the jail is making the rounds a second time this month.
The item was passed unanimously by the Public Safety Committee on Wednesday, having been returned to the committee by the full legislature last month.
The Sheriff's Office applied for and has been awarded the $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.
Sheriff Joe Gerace talks with the Public Safety Committee about a grant for a new video-conferencing system at the jail.
P-J photo by Nicholas L. Dean
According to Sheriff Joe Gerace, there is no local cost and such a system would ultimately increase efficiency and reduce costs at the jail.
Gerace answered questions about the grant at the November meeting of the Public Safety Committee, and faced many of those same questions again Wednesday.
At the November meeting of the full legislature, Democrats proposed sending the resolution back to committee as they had unanswered questions and neither Gerace nor another representative from the Sheriff's Office was present.
In specific, Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk, said legislators had questions about how the system would work if installed. Ahlstrom also said lawmakers had 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.
"I was unavailable the night of the full legislature meeting," Gerace said of last month. "I did not get any questions today that weren't fielded the first time it was presented. It was unanimously passed the first time in this committee and in the Audit and Control Committee."
Audit and Control Committee members will review the resolution to accept the grant money today. The full legislature meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday on the third floor of the Gerace Office Building in Mayville.
According to the sheriff, the video-conferencing system will allow inmates to visit with friends and family over the internet from the jail. The system would be a secure site monitored by corrections staff and would cost a fee to use, which Gerace said would hopefully generate revenue for the county.
On Wednesday, Gerace spoke of the headache which in-person visitation can cause for staff because of the potential for contraband coming in. Law requires that contact be allowed during visitation, Gerace said.
In terms of such systems in use in other prisons, Gerace said he has heard inmates use and respect the technology - not damaging the equipment because of the service it provides.
Of this month's full legislature meeting, Gerace said he or a representative will be present to answer questions.
"I think some may have voted to table it or return it to committee strictly because I wasn't present at the meeting," he said.