Santa Clara County, California, has the fifth largest jail system in California, and among the 20 largest systems in the United States, with over 4,500 inmates. As the county's jail population grew, so did requests to visit inmates. This became a logistical nightmare for both visitors and the county's Department of Correction (DOC), and created security concerns. The Online Inmate Information and Jail Visit Reservation System was developed as part of Santa Clara's e-government initial strategic plan and was implemented in 2003.
The DOC had fallen out of compliance with the California Corrections Standards Authority’s mandate requiring an inmate’s right to two weekly visits from loved ones. Visitors were not prescreened for visit eligibility based on outstanding arrest warrants or criminal backgrounds, and inmates on weekend work programs were used as clerical staff to screen visitors while DOC staff escorted visitors through the jail. This situation resulted in potential breaches in prison security and opportunities for identity theft.
In addition, most visitors were handled on a first come, first served basis on weekends, which led to lines forming at the jails as early as 5 am. Often, people who had traveled a great distance in order to visit an inmate were turned away when the day's visitor time slots were filled. The County’s Board of Supervisors received many complaints from the public regarding their frustration at the inmate visiting process.
The Online Inmate Information and Jail Visit Reservation System (OVR) is a Web-based self-service system that allows potential visitors to register for an inmate visit online via the County’s portal. When a user registers, the DOC runs a warrant and criminal background check on the potential visitor and approves or denies their visitation request. The registrant receives an e-mail notification of the request’s approval or denial. Once approved, the user is able to pre-schedule inmate visits up to three weeks in advance via the County’s Website.
The OVR includes a real-time interface to the County’s central Criminal Justice Information Control (CJIC) system, which contains all inmate data, and is used to track the number of visits an inmate is entitled to in a given period. If an inmate’s status changes in CJIC, such as when an inmate is released prior to a visit taking place, the connection between the CJIC and OVR systems ensures that the visit is automatically revoked, and the visitor is notified by e-mail of its cancellation and the reason. This saves a visitor from a trip to the jail, as well as opening up a slot for other inmates to receive visits from friends and loved ones.
The OVR has also dramatically improved inmates' access to visits from friends and loved ones, one of their key civil rights while in custody. Since December 2006, OVR has consistently been one of the top three applications accessed on the County of Santa Clara’s online portal. On average, approximately 10,000 inmate visits take place each month, over 55 percent of which are now self-scheduled by the public using the OVR. In addition to providing a means to schedule visits online, OVR provides a secure way for the public to obtain inmate booking and bail information. Phone calls for this kind of information have decreased 20 percent since the system’s implementation.