New community center offering inmate video visitation
07/22/2013
Gazette - Online, The

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Beltsville Adventist Community Center pilots first-in-state program

Glenn Holland, pastor for community ministires at Beltsville Seventh Day Adventist Church, sits in the video conferencing room in the church's community center that is being used for a pilot program of video visitation between inmates and their family members through the Maryland Department of Corrections.

Glenn Holland, pastor for community ministires at Beltsville Seventh Day Adventist Church, sits in the video conferencing room in the church's community center that is being used for a pilot program of video visitation between inmates and their family members through the Maryland Department of Corrections.

Leaders at the Beltsville Seventh Day Adventist Church discovered a need for food aid in Beltsville, which led to this food pantry in the church's community center.

Hortencia Bustamante of Laurel applies for a job in the computer room Wednesday at the Beltsville Adventist Community Center. Free computer usage is among the services offered by the Beltsville Seventh Day Adventist Church at their community center.

The Beltsville Adventist Community Center is not yet a year old, but it is already piloting a first-in-the-state program connecting prison inmates with families.

“We're very excited to be piloting this,” said Glenn Holland, community pastor for BACC, which is operated through the Beltsville Seventh Day Adventist Church.

The pilot program uses video conferencing software and equipment to allow family and friends to schedule an appointment at BACC to see and speak with inmates at Jessup Corrections Institution eligible for visitation at no cost, Holland said.

Holland said he learned about videoconference visitation being used in Virginia through the regional conference of Seventh Day Adventist churches. Holland said Virginia is the only other state to provide the service.

“It seemed like something we ought to be doing in Maryland,” Holland said.

Holland said he contacted the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and last September, a plan began to create the free pilot program.

“We think this is better for safety and it is easier on families in that they do not have to travel as far,” Martha Danner, DPSCS deputy director of Community Supervision Support.

Jessup is currently the only prison participating, but if the pilot is successful, it would be expanded to other state prisons, Danner said, adding that several Baltimore area churches have expressed an interest in participating.

Inmates are more likely to be successful after prison if they have strong family support, but many families cannot make the journey on a regular basis, Danner said.

“If somebody can visit from a remote location and maintain closer contact with the inmate, that inmate may well do better when he or she gets out,” Danner said.

There are 22 prisons in Maryland and JCI is closest to Prince George's County.

Capt. Anthony Lewis, pilot project coordinator for JCI, said the benefits include not having to search visitors for contraband or worry about visitor safety inside the facility.

“Jessup Correctional Institution was pleased to be chosen by the DCPCS to pilot this video visit program,” said Lewis. “This is a wonderful program and I would like to see it expand throughout the DPCPS.”

The first video visitation was held July 14.

“It went great,” said Holland. “They were really excited to be the first ones to try it.”

The inmate and visitor wished to remain confidential, Holland said.

Video visitations must be scheduled at least a week in advance, by calling the Beltsville Seventh Day Adventist Church. Currently, they are only scheduled for Sundays, as the church observes the Sabbath on Saturdays and hosts a daycare program weekdays, but if demand increases, it may be extended to weekday evenings as well, Holland said.

Holland said the prison video visitation is just one example of ways churches and government can cooperate.

BACC provides other services such as counseling, a computer lab and a food pantry.

“Both churches and government need to be working together to meet the needs of the community that we both have a mutual interest in serving, and that's what we're doing here,” Holland said.