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Video calls in Brooklyn libraries will put inmates in touch with their families

The Brooklyn Public Library has been awarded a grant for nearly $400,000 to place inmate video calling services in a dozen libraries, giving inmates' friends and family members a new way to stay in contact.

Will expand a pilot program to 12 libraries

Often, having a loved one in prison means jumping through expensive, complicated hoops to stay in touch. A large part of the problem has been on the inmate phone industry, but increasingly, prisons and jails are turning to video calls for visitations, and have employed similar practices.

In 2014, the Brooklyn library launched a pilot in one branch, setting up a connection to Rikers Island and city Department of Corrections facilities. The grant, from the Knight News Challenge, will be put toward expanding the free video services to more branches, to be picked based on incarceration rates and geographic distribution in the area.

The program has a focus on children, and the planned rooms will be decorated with them in mind. "Children ages 0 to 10 can participate in family 'video visits' in one of several library rooms that staff fill with stuffed animals, books, crayons and paper to create warm and welcoming spaces—€”in sharp contrast to those used at Rikers Island," according to a proposal of the project. "BPL's video visit rooms offer privacy, but in no way are hidden, to reinforce the message that having a loved one in jail is not something to be ashamed of." The program will also offer access to the same sets of books, so families will be able to read along with one another.

The organization hopes that the program will become a model for other programs across the United States.