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South Asia's largest jail, India's Tihar prison, to begin e-visits

India's Tihar jail is allowing prisoners to have online visits using video conferencing software. The technology will help relatives of the estimated 14,000 inmates stay in touch without traveling to Delhi.

Online visits are to be offered at India's Tihar prison - South Asia's largest jail - for the first time, prison officials confirmed on Saturday.

The use of video conferencing technology, which is now a regular part of visiting rights in several Western countries, will allow relatives, friends and legal teams to keep in touch with inmates at the jail, on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi.

The technology is regularly used in court rooms to protect witnesses and to prevent security breaches while prisoners are transported from jail to court.

"The software will be specially helpful for the poor family members of prisoners, who can not travel from distant places in the country to Delhi," Mukesh Prasad, Additional Inspector General of Tihar prison told Press Trust of India (PTI).

Relatives will be able to book the facility online and e-visits will be approved at the discretion of prison authorities.

“We will then study the backgrounds of the prisoner and the person wishing to meet him/her virtually. Approval will solely be at the discretion of the jail authorities as the facility can be misused,” another prison source told The Hindu newspaper.

The software will be launched at the end of November.

Low cost and convenient

The long-stay inmates of South Asia's largest jail are only allowed to receive visitors twice a week for thirty minutes.

Often visitors from outside the city have no choice but to remain in Delhi for several days before being granted the right to visit an inmate, local media reported.

Tihar, which houses up to 14,000 inmates in nine facilities - almost three times its approved capacity - has faced strong criticism for its cramped and unhygienic conditions.

The e-visitor facility is the latest program to help improve the prison's reputation. Last year, Tihar launched its own radio station for inmates.

The jail has also organized a job recruitment drive for its best-behaved inmates.

In the US, the use of video conferencing software has been criticized for replacing contact visits and for the costs of the calls, which can reach up to 14 euros ($15) for a 30 minute chat.

Campaigners say while prisons save hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs for supervising actual visits, inmates using e-visits miss out on personal interaction, which they say can be an important factor in their rehabilitation.

mm/jm (PTI, The Hindu)

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