Title:
System and method for visitation management in a controlled-access environment
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A method of managing visitation includes accessing a visitation control system including a visitation session scheduling interface, communications devices, a switching interface, and at least one authentication interface, defining rules governing visitation, requesting a visitation session using the scheduling interface, assessing whether the visitation session complies with the rules governing visitation, scheduling the visitation session if the visitation session complies with the rules, using the at least one authentication interface to authenticate a first party and a second party, establishing communication between the first party and the second party after authenticating both parties, and storing a record of the visitation session in a database. The record preferably includes at least information regarding identities of the first party and the second party. The visitation session may also be monitored (e.g., in real time, near real time, or by recording).



Inventors:
Johnson, Mark D. (Altoona, PA, US)
Rokosky, James P. (Altoona, PA, US)
Dom, Joshua (Altoona, PA, US)
Dale, John P. (Duncansville, PA, US)
Application Number:
11/819834
Publication Date:
08/21/2008
Filing Date:
06/29/2007
Primary Class:
International Classes:
G06Q10/00
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
BROOKS, MATTHEW L
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
WILEY REIN LLP (1776 K. STREET N.W., WASHINGTON, DC, 20006, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A method of managing visitation in a controlled-access environment, the method comprising: accessing a visitation control system, the visitation control system comprising: a visitation session scheduling interface; a plurality of communications devices; a switching interface; and at least one authentication interface; defining a set of rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment; requesting a visitation session using the visitation session scheduling interface of the visitation control system; assessing whether the visitation session complies with the set of rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment; scheduling the visitation session if the visitation session complies with the set of rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment; using the at least one authentication interface to authenticate a first party to the visitation session; using the at least one authentication interface to authenticate a second party to the visitation session; establishing communication between the first party to the visitation session and the second party to the visitation session after authenticating both the first party and the second party to the visitation session; and storing a record of the visitation session in a visitation session database, the record of the visitation including at least information regarding identities of the first party and the second party.

2. The method according to claim 1, wherein the step of defining a set of rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment comprises defining one or more operational rules.

3. The method according to claim 1, further comprising storing a plurality of demographic information records in a demographic information database, each of the plurality of demographic information records including demographic information for a single user of the visitation control system.

4. The method according to claim 3, wherein the step of defining a set of rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment comprises defining one or more visitation rules, each of the one or more visitation rules being associated with a single user of the visitation control system.

5. The method according to claim 4, further comprising associating each of the one or more visitation rules with a demographic information record.

6. The method according to claim 1, wherein the step of establishing communication between the first party to the visitation session and the second party to the visitation session comprises establishing at least an audio connection between the first party and the second party through the visitation control system.

7. The method according to claim 6, wherein the step of establishing at least an audio connection between the first party and the second party through the visitation control system comprises connecting a first one of the plurality of communications devices to a second one of the plurality of communications devices via the switching interface.

8. The method according to claim 6, wherein the step of establishing at least an audio connection between the first party and the second party through the visitation control system comprises establishing both an audio connection and a video connection between the first party and the second party through the visitation control system.

9. The method according to claim 1, further comprising terminating the communication between the first party and the second party at the conclusion of a preset period of time.

10. The method according to claim 1, further comprising: determining whether the visitation session is to be monitored; and monitoring the visitation session in response to a determination that the visitation session is to be monitored.

11. The method according to claim 10, further comprising defining a plurality of visitation session monitoring criteria, wherein the step of determining whether the visitation session is to be monitored comprises assessing whether the visitation session meets at least one visitation session monitoring criterion.

12. The method according to claim 10, further comprising, during the step of monitoring the visitation session: detecting a violation of one or more rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment; and terminating the communication between the first party and the second party upon detecting the violation of one or more rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment.

13. The method according to claim 10, further comprising, during the step of monitoring the visitation session: detecting a violation of one or more rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment; and notifying a third party upon detecting the violation of one or more rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment.

14. The method according to claim 1, further comprising assigning an identification code to at least one of the first party and the second party, wherein at least one of the steps of using the at least one authentication interface to authenticate a first party to the visitation session and using the at least one authentication interface to authenticate a second party to the visitation session comprises using the identification code respectively assigned thereto to authenticate the respective party to the visitation system.

15. The method according to claim 1, further comprising: receiving a biometric input measurement from at least one of the first party and the second party; and associating the received biometric input measurement with the respective party, wherein at least one of the steps of using the at least one authentication interface to authenticate a first party to the visitation session and using the at least one authentication interface to authenticate a second party to the visitation session comprises using the biometric input measurement to identify the respective party to the visitation system.

16. The method according to claim 15, wherein the biometric input measurement is a fingerprint.

17. The method according to claim 15, wherein the biometric input measurement is a voice print.

18. The method according to claim 1, wherein the step of assessing whether the visitation session complies with a set of rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment comprises verifying that neither the first party nor the second party is prohibited from participating in visitation sessions.

19. A system for managing visitation in a controlled-access environment, the system comprising: a visitation controller including a switching interface and a central processing unit to run a plurality of software programs, the plurality of software programs including: at least one software program controlling the switching interface; at least one software program to schedule a visitation session; and at least one software program monitoring compliance with a set of rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment; a first communications device coupled to the visitation controller; a second communications device coupled to the visitation controller; a first authentication interface coupled to the visitation controller to authenticate a first party to a visitation session; a second authentication interface coupled to the visitation controller to authenticate a second party to a visitation session; at least one monitoring device coupled to the visitation controller to enable monitoring of the visitation session; and a database coupled to the visitation controller to store a record of the visitation session, the record including at least information regarding identities of the first party to the visitation session and the second party to the visitation session.

20. The system according to claim 19, wherein the visitation controller establishes at least audio communication between the first communications device and the second communications device through the switching interface.

21. The system according to claim 20, wherein the visitation controller establishes both audio communication and video communication between the first communications device and the second communications device through the switching interface.

22. The system according to claim 19, wherein at least one of the first authentication interface and the second authentication interface comprises a biometric interface.

23. The system according to claim 22, wherein the biometric interface comprises a fingerprint identification interface.

24. The system according to claim 22, wherein the biometric interface comprises a voice print identification interface.

25. The system according to claim 19, wherein at least one of the first authentication interface and the second authentication interface comprises an identification code input interface.

26. The system according to claim 19, wherein the at least one software program to schedule a visitation session and the at least one software program monitoring compliance with a set of rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment cooperate to prohibit scheduling of a visitation session that does not comply with the set of rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment.

27. The system according to claim 19, wherein the at least one monitoring devices enables at least near real-time monitoring of the visitation session.

28. The system according claim 19, wherein the at least one monitoring device comprises a recording device to record the visitation session.

29. The system according to claim 19, wherein both the first communications device and the second communications device are internal to the controlled-access environment.

30. The system according to claim 19, wherein one of the first communications device and the second communications device is external to the controlled-access environment.

31. The system according to claim 30, wherein the one of the first communications device and the second communications device external to the controlled-access environment is coupled to the visitation controller via the Internet.

32. The system according to claim 19, further comprising at least one visitation scheduling client in communication with the visitation controller and configured to invoke the at least one software program to schedule a visitation session.

33. The system according to claim 32, wherein the at least one visitation scheduling client is external to the controlled-access environment.

34. The system according to claim 33, wherein the at least one visitation scheduling client communicates with the visitation controller via the Internet.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application is related to U.S. provisional application No. 60/901,342, filed Feb. 15, 2007 and U.S. application Ser. No. 11/706,431, filed Feb. 15, 2007. The foregoing are hereby incorporated by reference as though fully set forth herein.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

a. Field of the Invention

The instant invention relates to visitation sessions occurring in a controlled-access environment, such as a correctional institution. In particular, the instant invention relates to a system and method for managing and monitoring visitation sessions.

b. Background Art

In the correctional industry, inmate visitation is an essential part of rehabilitation of an inmate. Numerous studies have shown that visitation by friends and family can help reduce recidivism as well as prepare an inmate for life after prison. Since the vast majority of inmates are eventually released into the public, any steps to minimize the problems the individual may have upon re-entering public life are welcomed.

Typical visitation procedures in a jail setting are created to balance allowing the inmate to have a quality visit with reducing the likelihood of undesirable or inappropriate behavior by both inmates and their visitors. To this end, certain individuals, such as convicted felons, victims, jail employees, co-defendants, former inmates, and the like are normally either not permitted visitation rights, or are permitted only restricted visitation rights. Additionally, individuals may be required to consent to background screening, personal body searches, and other intrusive measures in order to visit an inmate.

In many institutions, inmates are permitted to have a list of approved visitors. This list may be periodically revised, or it may be permanent. The purpose of the list is not to punish or restrict the inmate to only certain visitors, but rather to reduce the workload of the institution staff tasked with researching and approving each visitor on the list. By providing an inmate with a list of approved visitors, those approved visitors can visit the inmate without having to be repeatedly “cleared” by corrections staff prior to each visit. Some institutions may further restrict these lists, for example by allowing visitors to appear on only a certain number of inmates' lists at any given time. The presence of a pre-approved list of visitors also allows each visit to reduce security risks, as the individual has already been researched and approved. Accordingly, visits by visitors on the pre-approved list can be more efficient and can occur with more regularity.

Visitations between inmates and the general population can generally occur in one of several methods. The simplest method, but also the most risk prone, is a face to face contact visit. In this type of visit, inmates and visitors are generally located in a common area, supervised by Corrections Officers. The inmates and visitors may sit at conference type tables, and may be permitted limited contact, such as hugging or handholding. Although this is the most desirable form of visit from both the visitor's and inmate's points of view, it is also the hardest to control. If inmates and visitors are not physically screened before and after visits, contraband, including drugs, money, and weapons could be introduced into the secure prison environment through face to face contact visits. Additionally, it is difficult for corrections officers to enforce rules that allow only certain visitors to visit certain inmates when all inmates and visitors are in a common location.

Another form of visitation involves placing a physical barrier between the inmate and the visitor. In this form of visitation, the individuals are face to face, but usually separated by a transparent material, such as security glass or Plexiglass. Generally, the booths are semi-private, with partitions or walls between each visitor and inmate. Physical contact is not permitted between the inmate and the visitor. Communication can be made via normal acoustic transmission through holes in the glass. One common addition to this scenario is to place private telephone handsets on each of the visitor side and the inmate side. Once both parties have picked up the handset, they can communicate via the electronic amplification of the phone. Where communication is by telephone handset, there often are no longer holes in the barrier between the inmate and visitor. Both of these forms of visitation still present the difficulty of and risks associated with allowing the general public into the secured prison environment.

Another form of visitation, typically employed only by the largest of detention centers, is remote video visitation. In this form of visitation, inmates and visitors are in physically separate locations, but are electronically connected via technology analogous to closed circuit television and telephone handsets or speaker phones. This type of visitation completely eliminates the potential for contraband to enter the facility, as the visitors never need be brought behind the secure gates of the prison.

All of the visitation types described above have in common that certain paperwork and research must be completed by the facility before the visitation session can occur. In some facilities, software, such as an Offender Management System (OMS), has automated part of the record keeping process, storing inmate information along with visitor information in the computer system. In more sophisticated OMS installations, the software can also perform basic enemy checking, employee checking, and past felony checking on visitors with the data already stored in the OMS database.

In addition, each type of visitation described above can be viewed as addressing some of the shortcomings present in the other types of visitation. For example, in comparison to contact visitation, having an inmate and visitor physically separated by a barrier will reduce, but may not eliminate, the potential to pass contraband between the visitor and the inmate. By using remote video visitation however, the risk of passing contraband between the visitor and the inmate is totally eliminated. Further, the remote video visitation approach is less intrusive to the visitor, as the visitor no longer needs to be physically searched prior to entering a secure area.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention provides a method of managing visitation in a controlled-access environment. The method generally includes the steps of: accessing a visitation control system including a visitation session scheduling interface, a plurality of communications devices, a switching interface, and at least one authentication interface; defining a set of rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment; requesting a visitation session using the visitation session scheduling interface of the visitation control system; assessing whether the visitation session complies with the set of rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment; scheduling the visitation session if the visitation session complies with the set of rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment; using the at least one authentication interface to authenticate a first party to the visitation session; using the at least one authentication interface to authenticate a second party to the visitation session; establishing communication between the first party to the visitation and the second party to the visitation session after authenticating both the first party and the second party to the visitation session; and storing a record of the visitation session in a visitation session database, the record of the visitation including at least information regarding identities of the first party and the second party. The set of rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment may include one or more operational rules (e.g., rules of general applicability or applicable to a particular class of individuals, rather than applicable to a specific individual). The step of assessing whether the visitation session complies with a set of rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment may, for example, include verifying that neither the first party nor the second party is prohibited from participating in visitation sessions.

The method optionally includes storing a plurality of demographic information records in a demographic information database, each of the plurality of demographic information records including demographic information for a single user of the visitation control system. One or more visitation rules associated with a single user of the visitation control system may be defined, and these visitation rules may be associated with a demographic information record.

Typically, the step of establishing communication between the first party to the visitation session and the second party to the visitation session will include establishing at least an audio connection between the first party and the second party through the visitation control system. This may be accomplished, for example, by connecting a first one of the plurality of communications devices to a second one of the plurality of communications devices via the switching interface. Alternatively, both an audio connection and a video connection may be established between the first party and the second party through the visitation control system. The communication between the first party and the second party may be terminated at the conclusion of a preset period of time.

It is also desirable to determine whether the visitation session is to be monitored and to monitor the visitation session in response to a determination that the visitation session is to be monitored. Whether or not a visitation session is to be monitored may be determined by assessing whether the visitation session meets at least one defined visitation session monitoring criterion. While monitoring the visitation session, the present invention may detect a violation of one or more rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment and thereafter terminate the communication between the first party and the second party. Alternatively, rather than terminating the communication, the present invention may notify a third party upon detecting the violation of one or more rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment.

In some embodiments, the method further includes assigning an identification code to at least one of the first party and the second party. The identification code may then be used to authenticate either or both of the first party to the visitation session and the second party to the visitation session to the visitation system. Alternatively, or in addition, the method may include receiving a biometric input measurement from at least one of the first party and the second party and associating the received biometric input measurement with the respective party. The biometric input measurement may then be used to authenticate either or both of the first party to the visitation session and the second party to the visitation session to the visitation system. The biometric input measurement may be a fingerprint, a voice print, or any other suitable biometric measurement.

Also disclosed herein is a system for managing visitation in a controlled-access environment, generally including: a visitation controller including a switching interface and a central processing unit to run a plurality of software programs, the plurality of software programs including at least one software program controlling the switching interface, at least one software program to schedule a visitation session, and at least one software program monitoring compliance with a set of rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment; a first communications device coupled to the visitation controller; a second communications device coupled to the visitation controller; a first authentication interface coupled to the visitation controller to authenticate a first party to a visitation session; a second authentication interface coupled to the visitation controller to authenticate a second party to a visitation session; at least one monitoring device coupled to the visitation controller to enable monitoring of the visitation session; and a database coupled to the visitation controller to store a record of the visitation session, the record including at least information regarding identities of the first party to the visitation session and the second party to the visitation session. The visitation controller typically establishes at least audio communication between the first communications device and the second communications device through the switching interface, and may establish both audio communication and video communication between the first communications device and the second communications device through the switching interface.

At least one of the first authentication interface and the second authentication interface may include a biometric interface, such as a fingerprint identification interface, a voice print identification interface, or another suitable biometric interface. Alternatively, or in addition, at least one of the first authentication interface and the second authentication interface may include an identification code input interface.

Preferably, the at least one software program to schedule a visitation session and the at least one software program monitoring compliance with a set of rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment cooperate to prohibit scheduling of a visitation session that does not comply with the set of rules governing visitation in the controlled-access environment.

The at least one monitoring devices typically enables at least near real-time monitoring of the visitation session. For example, the at least one monitoring device may include a recording device to record the visitation session.

In some embodiments of the invention, both the first communications device and the second communications device are internal to the controlled-access environment. In other embodiments of the invention, one of the first communications device and the second communications device is external to the controlled-access environment. The external communications device may be coupled to the visitation controller via the Internet.

The system optionally includes at least one visitation scheduling client in communication with the visitation controller and configured to invoke the at least one software program to schedule a visitation session. It is contemplated that the at least one visitation scheduling client may be external to the controlled-access environment, and may further communicate with the visitation controller via the Internet.

The present invention advantageously reduces the paperwork burden on correctional facility staff to “clear” outside parties for visitation sessions.

Another advantage of the present invention is that it improves compliance of visitation sessions with rules governing visitation in a controlled-environment.

The foregoing and other aspects, features, details, utilities, and advantages of the present invention will be apparent from reading the following description and claims, and from reviewing the accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a block diagram of a visitation control system according to an embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 2 is an exemplary block diagram of the visitation control unit shown at the center of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is a block diagram of an application server that may be incorporated into a visitation control unit according to the present invention.

FIG. 4 is an exemplary block diagram of the storage devices depicted in FIG. 1.

FIG. 5 is a flowchart illustrating steps that may be carried out in scheduling a visitation session.

FIG. 6 is a flowchart illustrating one embodiment of a process for conducting a visitation according to the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

While the visitation approaches described above address, to a certain extent, the problems of contraband and security within the prison, they can introduce issues with paperwork, research, and expense to the facility. Further, where the visitation session between the inmate and the visitor is conducted electronically, there is the potential to gather valuable information from the communication between the inmate and the visitor. For any information gathered to be of value, however, the parties in the communication need to be positively identified. In existing visitation approaches, positive identification is often difficult; often, the best that can be done is an educated guess based on paper logs, reports, and correction officer observations.

The visitation approaches described above also present the possibility of fraud (e.g., failures to follow established rules for visitation sessions). One common effort to circumvent facility rules regarding visitation sessions is to involve more than one inmate and more than one visitor, performing a switch when the visit actually occurs. For example, suppose Visitor A is not permitted to visit inmate 1 but is permitted to visit inmate 2. Conversely, suppose Visitor B is permitted to visit inmate 1 but not inmate 2. Visitors A and B communicate ahead of time and schedule visits at the same time: Visitor A schedules to see inmate 2, as permitted, and Visitor B schedules to see inmate 1, as permitted. After Visitors A and B are identified by the prison staff and are waiting to visit their respective inmates, however, they switch credentials or just simply switch seats to visit the inmates they are restricted from seeing. This type of visitation fraud is often occurs in large facilities where there are large numbers of visitors and inmates at any given time, making it difficult for corrections officers to individually recognize each of the inmates and visitors when monitoring the various visitation sessions occurring.

Another somewhat less serious form of visitation fraud involves inmates and visitors not observing time limits placed on visitation sessions, which are typically in the range of about fifteen to about sixty minutes. Prison resources are limited in nature, and only so many visits can be handled concurrently. Rigorously enforcing time restrictions makes better use of these resources, allowing more inmates the opportunity to participate in the visiting process. Of course, in a large facility, it requires considerable coordination by the prison staff to ensure that the visits do not extend past their allotted time, making it difficult for corrections officers to monitor time restrictions for all visitation sessions.

The visitation management system according to the present invention advantageously provides functionality beyond the functionality provided by many OMS software packages. The system may be installed and configured to function as a stand-alone system, where all inmates and visitors are manually entered directly into the visitation management system. Alternatively, the visitation system according to the present invention may be integrated with an OMS that provides inmate and/or visitor information. Of course, the system can also be integrated with an Inmate Telephone System, which may also provide inmate and/or visitor demographic information. It should further be understood that the present invention may be practiced in connection with any of the approaches to visitation described above, as well as any other type of visitation.

In general, regardless of the visitation approach employed, a visitation management system according to the present invention includes a monitoring device that permits one or more third parties, such as corrections officers or court officials, to monitor a visitation session between an inmate and a visitor. The term “monitoring,” as used herein, encompasses both live (e.g., real time or near real time) monitoring, for example as by actively listening in on an ongoing visitation session, and recordation of visitation sessions for later review and/or processing. One suitable post-processing system and methodology is disclosed in U.S. provisional application No. 60/901,342, filed Feb. 15, 2007, which is hereby incorporated by reference as though fully set forth herein.

In the case of handset and video visitation, the monitoring device may also be capable of playing back audio and/or video as appropriate. In face to face contact visitation settings, the monitoring device could be a microphone, speakerphone, video camera, or the like. Combinations of various monitoring devices (e.g., a microphone and a video recorder) could also be employed. Of course, the monitoring device or devices may be either visible to the parties to the visitation session or hidden from their view.

The visitation management system typically includes one or more databases or data stores, which may include one or more of the following types of data and records, discussed in further detail below: demographic information records, visitation schedule records, visitation log records, visitation recording and/or transcript records, configuration information, and operational rules. Of course, the database may also include other types of information and/or records as desired or required by a particular implementation of the visitation management system. The term “database,” as used herein includes relational databases in which a plurality of data sets are associated with each other and stored, preferably as one or more records; the database may be stored in a single medium or may be stored in multiple media interconnected by a network.

The demographic information typically includes a variety of data utilized to create records of a plurality of individuals in a variety of role categories. Role categories can include, without limitation, Inmates, Visitors, Employees, Official Visitors, Lawyers, and Clergy. The demographic information will also typically include at least identification information, such as names, addresses, telephone numbers, and the like for the individuals in the database.

The demographic data record for an individual may also include or be associated with one or more visitation rules that govern visitation sessions involving that individual. Visitation rules may include, for example, permitted to visit, permitted to be a visitor, blocked from visiting, must record, must not record, must be supervised, must be private, time limits, restrictions on visitation sessions by time and/or day, and the like.

The database may also include visitation schedule records, for example a calendar that reflects open and filled visitation “slots.” A scheduled visitation session (e.g., a filled visitation “slot”) can consist of one or more inmates visiting with one or more individuals, and may be a one time event (e.g., Wednesday from 11:00 AM until 11:30 PM) or a reoccurring series of events (e.g., the first of every month from 2:30 PM until 3:00 PM).

Scheduling of a visitation session can be initiated by an inmate, by correctional staff, or by the general public (e.g., a prospective visitor from outside the correctional institution). Scheduled visitation sessions may take into account factors such as the inmate's daily schedule, the inmate's allowed visitor list (e.g., by applying visitation rules stored or associated with the inmate's demographic data record), the facility's visitation schedule, and resource availability (e.g., the availability of visitation booths or remote video visitation stations for use by the inmate and/or the visitor). Preferably, scheduled visitation sessions can be altered (e.g., moved to a different date or time) or deleted entirely through a visitation session scheduling interface, which may be either locally or remotely located. In some embodiments, the visitation session scheduling interface may be accessed via a wide area network (WAN), such as the Internet. The present invention may also provide the ability to display or print a summary visitation schedule for any arbitrary time period, such as hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and the like. As will be described in further detail below, the visitation management system can accommodate both direct entry of scheduled visitation sessions, as well as use in a master/slave configuration where the schedule can be driven by an external system. For example, in some embodiments of the invention, visitation sessions may be scheduled by the public via a publicly-accessible web site or through an automated telephone system connected via the public switched telephone network (PSTN).

The visitation management system according to the present invention also preferably stores a history of visitation sessions within the database (referred to herein as “visitation session logs,” “visitation session records,” or “visitation session history”), including information about at least the inmates, visitors, and resources involved in each visitation session. A transcription and/or recording of the visitation session can also be stored or associated with the visitation session log. To facilitate storage and retrieval of the visitation session logs, each visitation session log may be assigned a unique identifier (e.g., a number or alphanumeric sequence).

Preferably, the visitation session logs can be queried in a variety of ways and by employing a variety of different search criteria, such as day, inmate, resource, visitor information, or any combination thereof, which makes visitation session log queries a desirable feature of the present invention. For example, different items are often considered contraband in different sections of a correctional facility. Inmates can be very resourceful in getting around facility rules to pass an item from an inmate living in a section where the item is not considered contraband to an inmate living in a section where the item is considered contraband. Upon discovering contraband with the second inmate, a corrections officer could use the visitation session logs to trace the origin of the contraband to the first inmate. For example, a corrections officer could view all visitation session records for a particular visitation resource (e.g., a given visitation booth) and determine which inmates were passing contraband between each other by scheduling visits right after each other (e.g., Inmate A was in booth 1 from 4:00 to 4:15 and left a forbidden item hidden in the booth for Inmate B to get during the 4:15 to 4:30 visitation time). A visitation session history report can also be used to determine odd patterns in visitation, such as the same visitor visiting many inmates, or a correlation between specific inmates and visitors and other events in the facilities, such as drug finds, contraband detection, or other misbehavior.

Configuration information may also be maintained within the visitation management system and stored within a database. Configuration information includes non-visitation related items, such as the number of phones connected to the visitation management system, where they are located, and a unique name or identifier assigned to each of them. It may also include configuration information about the telephony equipment used, such as board manufacturer, serial numbers, technical data, and the like.

Operational rules are still another type of data that may be stored in one or more databases included in a visitation management system according to the present invention. Operational rules typically dictate the conditions under which visitation sessions are permitted to occur. Operational rules are similar to the visitation rules that may be associated with individuals in the demographic database. Operational rules, however, apply across several individuals (e.g., to all individuals in the demographic database or to all individuals in a particular class/role), rather than only to a particular individual. Operational rules can include, but are not limited to, time limits for visitation sessions, visitation count limits, person restrictions, time of day, day of week, authentication required, recording required, monitoring allowed, notifications required, and others. For example, operational rules could exist to limit certain classes of inmates to visitation sessions only once a week for thirty minutes, while other classes of inmates are permitted visitation sessions twice a week for one hour.

The visitation management system preferably enforces operational rules and individual visitation rules both during scheduling of visitation sessions, thereby prohibiting the scheduling of visitation sessions in violation of the rules, as well as during visitation sessions. For example, the visitation management system may enforce a time limit operational rule by electronically cutting off the visitation session and/or notifying interested parties, such as staff and corrections officers, after a preset time limit for the visitation session has elapsed or if an unauthorized or impermissible party attempts to join the visitation session.

The primary difference between the various installation configurations (e.g., stand alone, OMS-integrated, Inmate Telephone System-integrated) of the visitation management system described above is in the performance of data entry. As described herein, the visitation management system is capable of taking direct input from a human operator, for example in a stand alone installation. Alternatively, the visitation management system can operate in a master/slave arrangement where another system, such as an OMS or an Inmate Telephone System, serves as master, with the visitation management system receiving data therefrom, which may save time and personnel resources that would otherwise be required for data entry to the visitation management system.

Thus, one of skill in the art will recognize that the systems and methods disclosed herein can be practiced to good advantage in any combination of visitation approaches and installation configurations without departing from the spirit and scope of the present invention.

One advantageous feature of the visitation management system according to the present invention is authentication of the parties to a visitation session. The disclosed visitation management system can authenticate the parties involved in the visitation session according to one or more of a plurality of authentication methods. For example, when using a handset-based approach to visitation (either remote or face to face with a barrier), when the inmate picks up the handset, the inmate may be prompted to enter a telephone ID number or visitation ID number, known only to the inmate. Similarly, when the visitor picks up the handset, the visitor will be prompted to enter in an ID number known only to the visitor. It is only after successful verification of these ID numbers that the visitation session may proceed. The visitation management system, to which the handsets are coupled, will only permit communication between the handsets after valid authentication of both parties to the visitation session. Therefore, communication cannot proceed until authorized. It is also at this point that monitoring of the visitation session can occur.

The generation of authentication identifiers for inmates and visitors can be performed in a variety of ways. In some embodiments of the invention, a unique one time identification code is generated for each visitor. This code may be produced by the system just prior to the visitation session taking place, immediately after identity verification of the visitor (e.g., a photo-ID check) has been performed. Typically, the identification code will be valid only for a preset time period (e.g., the identification code will expire after a certain amount of time). The identification code also preferably expires after it is used once for authentication, thereby reducing the likelihood that an authorized visitor can successfully pass an identification code to an unauthorized visitor.

Inmate validation can be performed in a similar fashion, or the inmate can use a Telephone ID (TID) number that is shared with the facility's inmate phone system. Inmates generally will not share their TIDs with each other, as it would allow other inmates to make fraudulent charges to the account associated with the TID, making it a suitable identifier to authenticate an inmate to a visitation session.

It is also contemplated that authentication may be performed by using biometric devices, such as finger print readers, iris scan readers, voice verification techniques, Radio Frequency ID, and other standard ways of ensuring positive identification. These biometric techniques can be used in place of, or in addition to, the identification number based authentication methodology described above. For example, either or both of the inmate and the visitor may be required to undergo two-factor identification, including input of an identification number and a fingerprint scan.

A visitation session typically begins when a corrections officer initiates a visit in the visitation management system. Visitation sessions may also begin automatically when an inmate and visitor both authenticate into a scheduled visitation session. A visitation session will generally continue until it is terminated by a corrections officer, by either of the parties to the visitation system, or by the visitation management system at the expiration of a preset visitation session time limit, which may be established according to one or more operational rules. The visitation session may also be terminated if the visitation management system detects a violation of an operational or individual visitation rule during the course of the visitation session. The system may also provide visual or auditory feedback to a corrections officer when a visitation session has expired or otherwise been terminated. The visitation management system will disconnect all audio or audio/video connections at the expiration of a visitation session.

The visitation management system may permit corrections staff at a facility to view and/or listen to visitation sessions currently in progress from a computer terminal or other suitable device. Preferably, a corrections officer can select one or more ongoing visitation sessions to monitor, and may be provided with a real time or near real time audio and/or video feed of each monitored visitation session, depending on the type of visitation session. Of course, if a visitation session is being conducted with an Official Visitor (e.g., an individual subject to a “do not monitor” operational or individual visitation rule, such as the inmate's lawyer), the corrections officer would not be able to monitor the conversation.

In addition to monitoring a visitation session in progress, the corrections officer may also participate in the visitation session by talking to one or both parties thereto. The corrections officer may also be able to terminate the visitation session at any time through the visitation management system, either with or without warning to the parties to the visitation session, for example upon detecting that a rules violation has occurred during the visitation session.

The visitation management system may also be configured to permit the corrections officer to transfer a live audio and/or video feed of the visit to any phone, computer terminal, video screen, or the like, be it inside the facility or outside the facility, for monitoring of the visitation session by one or more additional parties. For example, the visitation management system may be configured to transfer monitoring to cell phones of investigators, district attorneys, or others. Typically, the transfer of the monitoring would be undetectable by either the inmate or the visitor. Preferably, the transferee party will have the same ability as the corrections officer to join in or terminate the visitation session.

During a visitation session, the audio and/or video of the visit may be recorded, if desired (and permitted by the rules). The recorded data may be encoded into a computer-readable format, and may be stored either on a file system or within a database. As described above, the visitation session record for each visitation session may be assigned a unique identifier that may be used to correlate the participants in the visitation session, the date and time of the visitation session, the location of the visitation session, what corrections officers verified the identities of the participants to the visitation session, and other relevant details.

As described above, the recording of the visitation session and the data associated with the visitation session record can later be searched for and retrieved from within the visitation management system. Searching for visitation sessions can be completed based on one or more of a plurality of criteria including, without limitation, date and/or time of the visitation session, inmate name, inmate ID, visitor name, visitor ID, visitation booth, visitation area, and any combination thereof. Further, the recording of the visitation session can preferably be played back at any time and from any location that has access to a computer or phone system that can connect to the visitation management system. The corrections officer may be provided the ability during playback of the visitation session to annotate notes and transcriptions, which may be stored or associated with the visitation session record.

It is also contemplated that any recording of the visitation session can be downloaded to removable media, such as a CD or DVD, for playback on many standard devices. For example, in the case of a handset based approach to visitation, the audio file of a recorded visitation session can be written to a CD for playback in any standard CD player. This would permit, for example, the visitation session to be played back in court if necessary. Additionally, recordings of visitation sessions can be stored on removable media in binary format, advantageously allowing recordings of many visitation sessions to be stored on one disk for playback in a computer. Binary recordings also advantageously provide the ability to protect the recording with a security wrapper and/or watermarking process to alleviate tampering concerns.

In some embodiments of the invention, the audio of the visitation session can also be transcribed into text by a manual, human-driven process, by real time or near real time audio transcription software, or in a batch software process that can transcribe the audio after the visitation session has concluded.

The transcript of the visitation session can then advantageously be indexed and searched along with other database records. Typically, like the recording of a visitation session, the transcript of the visitation session will be stored or associated with the visitation session history, and can be accessed and printed from within the visitation management system. In some embodiments of the invention, rules can be configured in the visitation management system to flag certain keywords, phrases, or topics of conversations. These rules can be used to notify interested parties when a transcript meeting the rules is stored in the visitation management system (e.g., a rule that notifies a corrections officer whenever the terms “gang” and “cocaine” are both uttered in a visitation session).

FIG. 1 depicts a block diagram of a visitation management system 100 according to an embodiment of the invention, including the communications connections between the components thereof. The visitation control unit 102, which is depicted in further detail in FIG. 2, is connected to each of the other components of the visitation management system. The visitation control unit may communicate via a local area network (LAN) 104 for local resources, such as data storage 106 (shown in further detail in FIG. 4), control stations 108, video communication devices 110, and audio communication devices 112. The LAN may, but need not be, exclusively Ethernet technology, and thus may employ any type of communication medium and protocol, including analog, voltage based transmission.

Communication to remote visitation and audio devices is typically accomplished via the use of a LAN, commonly Ethernet or T1 digital framing, though other techniques are regarded as within the spirit and scope of the present invention. The wide area network (WAN) 114 provides a dedicated, private link between the visitation control unit and remote devices.

The Internet 116 can be utilized to provide access to remotely distributed control stations, scheduling clients 118, and home visitation devices 120. The speed requirement of the Internet link is dependent on the number of simultaneous connections supported.

Referring now to FIG. 2, the visitation control unit is the central processing center for the visitation management system 100. In some embodiments of the invention, the processing power for the visitation control unit comes from standard personal computer (PC) components, configured in a more robust and redundant server role. This generally means higher quality components, with redundant power supplies, hard drives, and other components, but a standard, off-the-shelf (e.g., consumer-grade) system could also be utilized.

The visitation management system is designed to work with a variety of hardware, such as Intel or AMD based processors, and Operating Systems, such as Microsoft Windows, Linux, Mac OS, and the like. The visitation management system itself is independent of the operating system in which it is operating. Each server depicted in FIG. 2 can be construed as either a physical hardware device or a virtual server. The number of physical hardware machines can be scaled to match the number of simultaneous user connections desired in the visitation management system. Additionally, if space and/or power consumption are considerations, the visitation management system can be scaled down to reduce these concerns.

The servers that collectively make up the visitation control unit are typically each connected to a central network bus 210, which will most commonly be an Ethernet connection. In addition, the entire visitation management system may be shielded from the rest of the network at an institution by a router or firewall, which can, of course, be either hardware or software based.

The video server 212, of which there may be one or more, connects to each of the video visitation devices and performs the necessary electrical connections and switching required to connect two or more visitation station units together for a visitation session. The video server can also send the audio and/or video feed to any other computer or device coupled to the visitation control unit for monitoring, recording, or other purposes. Additionally, in some embodiments of the invention, the video server is capable of performing real time translation of video protocols to allow for different video visitation hardware to be utilized in different locations. One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize how the video server establishes a video conference between parties to a visitation session, including, in some instances, a monitoring party.

The audio server 214, of which there may be one or several, is the audio analogue to the video server. The audio server connects audio devices, such as standard telephones, together and can send the output to any additional devices connected to the visitation control unit for monitoring, recording, or other reasons. The phone devices can be connected to the server via two wire copper connections, via twisted pair digital connections, wireless/cordless connections, or other techniques that will be familiar to one of ordinary skill. Preferably, the audio server has the capability to detect and respond to DTMF based events, flash hook events, and any other event that can be generated by a telephone device. The audio server may also be able to ring the telephone devices. The audio server may also be connected to outside telephone lines to route audio to an outside source, such as a land line or cellular phone.

The web server 216 is typically a standard device, which may run Apache, Microsoft Internet Information Server, or other web server software. The primary function of the web server is to route requests and other communications from visitation control stations, remote visitation scheduling clients, and home visitation devices into the appropriate destination within the visitation control unit. The web server can also serve as a maintenance point into the visitation control unit for servicing and configuring the system. Typically, the web server will be connected to both the public Internet and the internal network of an organization (e.g., a private intranet).

The application server 218 functions as the primary center of logic processing in the visitation management system. A block diagram of the application server is shown in FIG. 3. The application server may be a common PC based machine with one or more CPU's 310 connected via a bus 314 to other peripherals including, without limitation, a network card 316, analog modem 318, keyboard 320, mouse (not shown), and a monitor 322. Additionally, both system memory 322, consisting of RAM, and other data storage 324, e.g., magnetic, optical, or flash memory may be connected to the bus.

System memory 322 contains the runtime environment of the application server. While the preferred embodiment of the device contains an operating system 330 (e.g., Windows, Linux, or another operating system), and a Java virtual machine 332, the visitation management system could also be implemented in a variety of software configurations without changing the purpose or functionality of the device.

Internal non-volatile storage 324, preferably, but not necessarily, a hard drive, is used to store the operating system, application files, temporary files used during the operation of the system, and as a temporary storage space for recordings of visitation sessions. It is contemplated that recordings of visitation sessions will periodically be moved to another location, for example by an automated scheduled file transfer process, though recordings of visitation sessions may also be stored on the application server without departing from the spirit and scope of the present invention.

As shown in FIG. 4, in addition to the storage on the application server, there may also be one or more databases and associated Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices connected to the application server via the network. Although, as noted above, the term “database” is typically used herein to refer to a relational database, the term is also intended to encompass a relational database application or a remotely defined data store.

The remotely defined data store can be an external system, such as an Inmate Telephone System, an Offender Management System, or other information system application. In some embodiments of the invention, the data store is not a formal data store at all, but rather is a real time link to live data. In still other embodiments of the visitation management system, a variety of such data stores and databases are simultaneously employed in a heterogeneous environment.

As described above, the database will typically provide access to a variety of different types of data records. For example, data related to an inmate, including name, commitment information, address, and the like may be linked to the majority of the remaining data types. Such identification records may be entered directly into the visitation management system or, alternatively, loaded from an external system such as an OMS or Inmate Telephone System.

Scheduling data is typically generated only within the visitation management system and consists of visitation events that have not yet occurred (e.g., visitation schedule records) as well as historical visit information (e.g., visitation session records). A visitation schedule record may include links to all involved parties, including inmates, visitors, and correctional staff (if correctional staff are needed). It may also include links to other resources that will be used in the visitation session, such as inmate visitation booths, telephone reservations, data bandwidth guarantee reservations, as well as other metadata about the visitation session.

A separate logical data store can be used to store visitation session records, which may include a link to the original visitation session reservation (e.g., the visitation schedule record), any recordings or transcripts of the visitation session, and a list of the actual resources used, if they differed from the resources originally reserved for the visitation session. The data is preferably stored in such a way as to facilitate long term storage and easy data reporting capabilities.

A fourth type of database or data store may include configuration information for the visitation management system itself. As described above, this information may include the connection details of all the various hardware devices connected, such as the video and audio servers, web servers, application servers, and remote devices. The configuration data allows the system to be configured with a variety of different hardware types and manufacturers, enabling the application to run under a variety of different configurations depending on the needs and requirements of a given installation of the visitation management system.

Additionally, a fifth data store is the Network Attached Storage (NAS) device that may be used to store the actual audio and/or video recordings of visitation sessions. While the NAS may be configured as a relational database, it is preferably configured as a mass storage device, and a pointer or other reference to the location of data stored on the NAS may be stored as part of a record in another database. The NAS is preferably a very large storage device that can be expanded as the need arises to accommodate more live (e.g., on-line) storage of visitation session data. Various settings can be configured as to the lifespan of the data contained within the NAS. An infinite lifespan of data will, of course, require an infinite amount of storage, so such controls are necessary to limit or reduce the size of the NAS required. The capability could also be provided to export visitation session data off the live storage mechanism into permanent off-line storage, such as optical media for archival purposes or for presenting as evidence in court or aiding in the investigation of criminal activity.

Typically, standard analog inmate telephones are preferably used for audio communication during face to face and remote visitation sessions. They could also be used for video visitation sessions if the selected video communication device does not provide audio services. Unlike most existing visitation systems, the phones in the visitation management system according to the present invention are coupled to the audio server (e.g., the visitation control unit) rather than being directly connected to each other in pairs. In the case of standard analog phones, they will typically be connected to the server via a 66 block or other interface block. The phones, since they are not connected directly together, require the audio server to provide line power and logical switching services. In addition, because of the nature of this connection, the phones can easily be changed in real time to be connected to other devices. This advantageously increases the flexibility of the visitation management system, permitting such configurations as a many-to-many connection between telephones, while also providing a convenient controller (e.g., the visitation control unit).

Further, it is contemplated that “smart” phones may be used instead of, or in addition to, analog phones, similarly connected over a network to the audio server. The addition of smart phones could facilitate implementation of additional features in the visitation management system, such as authentication of parties to a visitation session as described above (e.g., via biometric identification devices or card readers), payment services (e.g., via credit card readers for ‘for-pay’ visitations), or deposits into an inmate accounting system. Smart phones could also introduce additional interactive services, such as display readouts for elapsed and remaining times, or other information.

In the case of a typical installation of visitation booths, a pair of phones would be installed in a visitation booth, one on each side of the divider between the inmate and the visitor. Unlike prior art systems, the phones used in the visitation management system of the present invention preferably are not connected for communication until the controlling hardware (e.g., the visitation control unit) and the audio/telephony software makes the connection, preferably after both the inmate and the visitor have authenticated themselves to the visitation session, either using a smart phone as described above or a separate authentication interface. This allows for precise timing of visits, authentication, and the ability to interrupt the visit by a third party.

Video visitation devices may be connected in a similar manner as phone devices-that is, via a central video server incorporated into the visitation control unit, rather than directly together. One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the video devices function similarly to the audio devices. Of course, video conferencing stations can be located in the same building connected via a LAN, coupled across a relatively short distance (e.g., within the same town) via a WAN, or coupled across a much larger distance (e.g., across several states) via an extended WAN. Preferably, the video conferencing devices have the capability to split audio signals from video signals to transmit the two signals to two different devices. This capability is may be used, for example, when connecting from a dedicated video conference station that supports both audio and video to a remote web-cam for video transmission via the Internet and a standard telephone for audio transmission via telephone lines.

Connected to the application server is a theoretically unlimited number of local client computers. The computers are running a local web browser, such as Microsoft's Internet Explorer, or Mozilla's Firefox. The browsers interpret user interactions and inputs and transmit these interactions and inputs to the application servers, where the interactions and inputs are used to control the audio and video servers. Clients are also able to administer the system, such as setting up resources and viewing, inserting, and deleting inmates or visitation sessions.

Preferably, the web application also provides mechanisms to view the current state of the system. The “current state of the system” is all active visitation sessions happening within the visitation management system. The amount of data visible to the user may be limited by the user's role. For example, some corrections officers may be able to see only that an inmate is in a visitation session, while other corrections officers could see where the visit is occurring and what type of visitation session it is (e.g., telephonic, remote video, in person). Still other classes of users may be able to listen in on and/or view the visitation session, as well as terminate or extend the visitation session.

As described above, the visitation management system may be part of a larger application, such as an Offender Management System or Inmate Telephone System, or it may be a standalone application depending on client configuration and modules installed. While the visitation management system is, in some embodiments, a web-based system, it is also contemplated that the functionality of the system can be delivered via a variety of application platforms, including, but not limited to, client/server or rich client.

Optionally, a facility may provide access to the visitation management system via the Internet or other communication network. In this case, remote clients, typically also running web browsers such as Microsoft's Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox, will be able to access the visitation management system as though locally connected to the visitation management system. One potential user of a remote client might be an investigator, not located at the correctional facility, who is interested in all visitation sessions involving a particular inmate. This investigator could be notified automatically by the visitation management system when a visitation session is occurring, and the investigator can log on to the visitation management system from any Internet-connected remote location and device to view and/or listen to the visitation session in progress.

This remote accessibility provides an advantage over the prior art, where an investigator ordinarily must rely on an alert correctional officer to take note of a visitation session of interest occurring and then notify the investigator of the date, time, booth, inmate, visitor, etc. that was involved in the visitation session. Thereafter, in order to listen to the content of the visitation session, the investigator would be required to search for the recording or transcript—if any—of the visitation session after the fact based on the reported date, time, and location of the visitation session. This method is time consuming, imprecise, error prone, and reactive. On the other hand, the inventive method disclosed herein is fast, accurate, precise, and proactive, which is a considerable improvement over the prior art.

A special type of limited client access can also be provided to the general public in order to schedule and conduct visitation sessions via a home personal computer. In some embodiments of the invention, the visitor uses a web camera connected to the visitor's home PC, which is connected to the Internet. The individual logs on to the visitation management system via the world wide web to request and schedule visitation sessions, as well as to actually participate in a visitation session. Audio visitation sessions would work in a fashion similar to an inmate telephone call, though the visit is at a predetermined time and is mutually initiated. A video visitation session will use the web camera to transmit video, and the monitor will display video. Audio can be transmitted via a standard phone line or via computer speakers and microphone. These types of visitation sessions will also be able to be monitored, transcribed, and/or controlled from any other client connected to the visitation management system. The maximum number of simultaneous remote visitation sessions is controlled by available bandwidth coming from the facility, as well as the physical number of video or audio devices that exist. As an alternative to visitors utilizing their home PCs to connect to the visitation management system over the Internet, special dedicated terminals may be provided outside the correctional facility, but still within the correctional enterprise's network, to perform the same or similar functions.

A significant advantage of the visitation management system is its ability to integrate with a variety of other solutions for the corrections market. Services can be provided to integrate directly at the database level, where inmates and other data can be moved seamlessly from one system to another (e.g., between an OMS and the visitation management system). Services can also exist to integrate at a higher level, such as the visitation management system sending messages on events occurring to external systems. For example, a visitation session involving a particular inmate may trigger a message to an outside system, such as an investigator, District Attorney, or court system. Integration may also exist to connect visitation management systems at several correctional facilities to allow for facility to facility visitation sessions.

FIGS. 5 and 6 are flowcharts of a visitation process using the visitation management system. Scheduling of a visitation session is initiated by either an inmate or by the visitor. The visitation session can be scheduled far in advance, and is made according to the operational rules of the correctional facility. For example, a correctional facility may require that an inmate only has three visitation sessions per month or that only approved visitors may participate in visitation sessions. Regardless of how the visit schedule is created (e.g., whether initiate by the inmate or initiated by the visitor), the operational rules are preferably enforced by the visitation management system to ensure that only compliant visitation sessions are scheduled.

If desired by the correctional facility, a visitor may initiate the scheduling process. Often times, a visitor must be approved before a visitation session can be scheduled. A visitor can place himself or herself on a waiting list to be approved by the facility if the visitor is not already on the list. Individual combinations of visitors and inmates may be approved. Alternatively, certain visitors may be approved to visit any inmate.

Once a visitor has an inmate on the visitor's approved inmate list, the visitor can schedule a visitation session by browsing for available days and times. Available visitation sessions may be presented by taking into account the facility's visiting hours, the inmate's schedule, and other facility rules as reflected in the visitation schedule records. An option could also exist to auto-pick the first available time for a visitation session.

Once a visitation session is scheduled, a record of the visitation session is created in the appropriate database or data store detailing at least the participants in the visit (e.g., the name of the inmate and the name, address, and phone number of the visitor), and, in some embodiments of the invention, the resources that will be required to participate in the visit, such as visitation booths, video devices, or room reservations. The visitor is notified of the confirmed visitation session date and time and may be given a confirmation code that uniquely identifies the scheduled visitation session. Preferably, once created, the scheduled visitation session can be modified by the inmate, the visitor, or an administrative individual. Modifications can include changes in date and/or time, resource changes, or a complete cancellation of the visitation session. Upon any change to the reservation, the visitor must be notified of the change. This can be done via email, postal mail, or via telephone. Likewise, the record of the visitation session may also be updated.

Once the time arrives for the visitation session, both the inmate and the visitor must be located in the proper place for the visit. Often, the individuals involved in the visitation session, both inmate and visitor, must be positively identified by a corrections officer as well as authenticated to the visitation session as described herein. Generally, it is easy to positively identify an inmate, as inmates are required to have identification on them at all times. The inmate can further be positively identified by requiring a unique telephone or visitation session identification code to be entered into a phone or video device before the visitation session can proceed. Identifying individuals of the general public can be more problematic, but facility rules can be set up to require a state or federally issued identification card to be shown before the visitation session can commence. To further identify the individual, a unique one-time code can be generated that will only allow the visitor to participate in the visitation session the visitor was scheduled for. This helps prevent a common scenario where visitors try to circumvent facility rules to visit someone they are not permitted to visit. Additionally, identification and authentication can also be performed via biometric devices, such as fingerprint readers.

Once both parties to the visitation session have been positively identified by the system, the visitation session can be said to have started. At this point, the visitation management system will initiate a timer to calculate the elapsed and remaining time of the visitation session.

During the duration of the visitation session, any individual with the proper rights and privileges can view visitation sessions in progress, listen in on them, or speak to one or both parties to the visitation session. Appropriately credentialed users may also be able to terminate the visitation session or grant additional time to the parties. The visitation session may also be recorded so that individuals can review a recording and/or transcript of the visitation session at a later time.

Towards the end of the visitation session, participants may be notified of the time remaining in the visitation session. A prompt, such as “You have 3 minutes remaining for this visit” can be played over a telephone or other audio device or overlaid on the screen for a video visit.

At the conclusion of the visitation session, the visitation management system automatically terminates the logical device connections (e.g., the connection between telephone or video devices) to ensure that no further communication can take place between the inmate and the visitor. The visitation management system then creates a record of the completed visitation session as described herein. Of course, if desired, the system can start a transcription process to convert any recorded audio into searchable text.

The inmate is escorted back to his or her cell, and the visitor can leave the facility at this point. The visitation booths are now available for use for other visitation sessions.

After the visit has concluded, the visitation session record becomes available for retrieval at a later point by corrections officers, police officers, investigators, and others who may require access.

The visitation management system according to the present invention advantageously allows for searching of past visitation sessions via such criteria as inmate name, visitor name, visitation session locations, dates and times, content of the visitation sessions (e.g., topics discussed), and unique visit IDs. Once the visitation management system is provided with the proper search input parameters from a user, the application server queries the database for results matching the user's request. The results will be formatted and presented back to the user, typically via the web browser. The user can then export the details of one or more of the output visitation sessions, or the audio and/or video of the visitation session, if available, to external media, such as CD or DVD. The media can be presented in court, if needed, to serve as evidence.

Although several embodiments of this invention have been described above with a certain degree of particularity, those skilled in the art could make numerous alterations to the disclosed embodiments without departing from the spirit or scope of this invention. For example, though the present invention has been generally been described in the context of a one-to-one visitation session, one of ordinary skill in the art will appreciate that the principles disclosed herein may also be applied to a one-to-many, many-to-one, or many-to-many visitation session. As such, the term “party,” as used herein, should not be construed to refer to only a single individual, but rather is intended to encompass one “side” of a visitation session (e.g., in a visitation session between an inmate and the inmate's family, the inmate is a party and the family is a party).

It is intended that all matter contained in the above description or shown in the accompanying drawings shall be interpreted as illustrative only and not limiting. Changes in detail or structure may be made without departing from the spirit of the invention as defined in the appended claims.