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Prisoners Video Chat With Relatives After Expansion of Library Program

By Dartunorro Clark | November 30, 2016 5:42pm
 City officials participate in a demonstration of the video chat system for inmates and families at the East Harlem 125th Street Branch of the New York Public Library system.
City officials participate in a demonstration of the video chat system for inmates and families at the East Harlem 125th Street Branch of the New York Public Library system.
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DNAinfo/Dartunorro Clark

HARLEM — The city’s three public library systems will outfit several of its branches with a new video system which will let Rikers Island inmates and their families chat, officials announced Wednesday.

The technology will be set up in rooms at branches across the city. Families can make hour-long appointments to video chat in real time with incarcerated loved ones.

The initiative began in 2014 in the Brooklyn Public Library system, which uses the technology at twelve of its locations. It will be expanded throughout the three library systems.

The city allocated $600,000 for six locations in Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx, as well as four branches within the Queens Public Library System.

New York Public Library worked with the city's Department of Correction to make the video visitation available for all inmates at Rikers Island.

Officials demonstrated how the video-chat system will work at the East Harlem 125th Street branch Wednesday afternoon, one of the locations where the technology will be available.

Tony Marx, the president of New York’s Public Library System, said the new feature will provide “hope and support to some of our city’s most vulnerable.”

Officials also said the technology helps eliminate the hours-long journey families often take to Rikers Island to visit inmates and could help with re-entry after inmates have served their time.

“This video visitation program will not only decrease the burden on families, but should also help reduce recidivism,” Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said Wednesday afternoon at the Harlem branch.

Yvette Beatty, 47, who lives in Brownsville, said she has been using the technology since 2015 at her local branch to connect her four children with their father.

“It gave him more reason to stay focused with a constructive mind in an environment that makes him feel so depleted,” she said.

“Imagine kids being able to sit down and hear their mom’s voice or their dad’s voice. It’s not a tangible touch, but it’s a lasting memory.”