The PA Department of Corrections is using technology to bring loved ones together. Erie is one of three sites in Pennsylvania offering a private, comfortable place for individuals to visit loved ones behind bars without stepping through a prison door. It’s like Skype for prisons.
Technology is bringing families together through the Department of Corrections’ Virtual Visitation Program. There are three sites in Pennsylvania where individuals can visit loved ones in prison via computer. One site is at the Booker T. Washington Center in Erie.
Executive Director Shantel Hillard says he sees at least 15-20 visitors come through a month, but wants that number to grow. “It’s an exciting program. We just want to get more people involved in the program and aware of the program because you want to make sure families have that opportunity to stay connected”.
The program has been offered in Erie for the past four years, keeping in line with the Booker T’s mission to keep families together. Hillard says making sure families stay connected to loved ones while incarcerated is important. “There have been opportunities and time where there are kids that go in that haven’t seen their parents in five to six years and it’s tough, you know? But, you have to build past that but it gives them the opportunity to build a relationship… So, when that individual gets back into the community, or integrated back into the community, they still have a relationship and a bond with their family so it’s not like they are starting all over again”.
Some of the things that people like about the visitation room is that it’s quiet, private, and takes you out of those uncomfortable surroundings. Terri Pacley’s boyfriend has been in prison in Forest County for the past six years and he has another two to go. She used the Virtual Visitation Program after the Christmas storm prevented her from making the hour and forty-five-minute drive.
Pacley tells us, “you can just come down here and talk, you know? Just want to see their face and chat a little bit… you might be more able to say more stuff that you need to say to a person than if someone was sitting right next to you”.
Pacley says it’s so easy she plans to utilize the virtual visitation room more often because those visits, while not literally face to face, still make the difference in any relationship. “On both sides, it makes your day easier. It makes doing what you have to do easier… just to see a loved ones face will help them get through what they have to get through”.
The Virtual Visitation Program is offered at several state correctional institutions and soon to be in all 26 locations.
For more information or to schedule an appointment at the Booker T. Washington Center, click here.
Watch Raychel Vendetti’s web extra coverage below: