Skype Video Prompts Questions About Tulsa County Jail's Video Phone System

Wednesday, October 23rd 2013, 6:24 pm
By: News On 6

When we aired a video phone call from inside Tulsa County's jail Tuesday, showing a teenage murder suspect, many viewers and readers asked why inmates are allowed to video chat with their family and friends.

We went back to the jail Wednesday to find out.

The video phone system has been in Tulsa County's jail for about the past six months. It doesn't cost taxpayers a penny. In fact, it's making them some money.

A recorded Skype video call shows 15-year-old murder suspect, Josh Mooney, in the background of another inmate's call, making a gun gesture toward his temple and saying, "head shot," while another inmate talks about him shooting a woman in the head.

It outraged many people on two counts: first, the content of the video; second, that people in jail are allowed to make these types of calls, at all.

"If somebody misbehaves, I block the family and I block them and they're no longer allowed to use the system," said Sgt. Bob Darby, with the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office.

10/22/2013 Related Story: Skype Video Of 15-Year-Old Tulsa Murder Suspect Shows Disturbing Behavior

Darby said the law allows certain privileges in jail and phone calls are one of them. He said the video phone calls are paid for by the inmate's family and are cheaper, at 50 cents a minute, than a regular phone call, at $2 a minute. The jail is making about $2,000 a month right now.

He said it also cuts down on visitation. Right now, about 7,000 people a month visit inmates. That takes up a lot of staff and time.

Other jails say video calls freed up their staff to do other things.

"They saw their visitation drop 80 to 90 percent," Darby said.

One inmate's family lives in western Oklahoma, so it's cheaper and easier for them to pay for video calls. He can see them all, even the kids, who aren't allowed to visit at the jail.

"In a way, it's good and in a way, it's kind of sad, too," the inmate said. "You see everything going on in my house and I'm not there."

Most people in a county jail have not been convicted of a crime. Jail managers say, if you take away access to their family, their support system, then their support system becomes other inmates.

All calls are recorded and many are monitored.

After Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz saw the call with Mooney and several others in the background, and how they were behaving, he told his staff to tighten up their policies on video phone usage.

Some people think inmates in jail shouldn't have any privileges, but jail managers say it's a very good way to manage behavior. If an inmate misbehaves, you take away a privilege. And they don't like that, so they're more likely to behave.