What to Expect: Visitation at the El Paso County (Colorado) Criminal Justice Center (CJC)
Remember: Visitation is a privilege for you and the inmates. If you don't follow the rules, that privilege can be revoked.
Update: They finally finished installing the new screens!
I was pretty nervous about the transition, but it seems to have turned out for the better.
You no longer have to call at exactly at 8:00 a.m. to get a visit. I can't guarantee this is true for every ward/schedule, but it's now possible to schedule your visit pretty much the whole day, even when you show up for an 8:30 p.m. visit. That's a BIG change from before.
I'm mixed on the new screens ... I like that all of them have timers, but I'm not a fan of the dual screens or the audio recordings at the beginning and end. Also, if you want them to have a clear view of you, you have to stack a couple of chairs together so you're sitting higher.
Overall, a better experience.
Make the Call
So a friend or loved one is in custody at the CJC, and you want to see them.
Call this number to schedule a visit: (719) 390-2373. The CJC's web page lists all the rules to follow when visiting.
The first time you call to set up a visit, they will ask you for personal information, such as your address and birth date. If you don't give them this information, you won't be allowed to schedule a visit. You can have another person come with you, but you have to tell them when you make the visit, and that person has to register, too.
They start answering the phones at 8:00 am; they are closed for lunch between 1:45 and 4, and shut down at 9:00 pm. If you want to guarantee a visit with your inmate, call early! The visitation center can only accommodate so many people; even if your inmate has times available for that day, the center itself might have a full schedule. There are only 28 video screens; some are broken in both the visitor center and the jail, so space is limited.
Set aside time to schedule your visit. Very rarely, they pick up right away; however, it is not unusual to wait for 45 minutes (or more!). You can also schedule a visit at the jail, but I would only recommend doing that if you are going to be there in the morning.
And if you don't want to wait for another 45 minutes, write down the date and time as a reminder.
The jail requires you to make an appointment two days in advance. For example, if you call on a Monday, you will be scheduling a visit for the following Wednesday; if you call on a Wednesday, you will be scheduling an appointment for Friday.
Many inmates have a limited number of visits per week; additionally, there are only certain hours and days they are allowed to have visitors. Each inmate has different restrictions; they will give your inmate's schedule when you call to make a visit.
The day/time of the visit depends on where your inmate is being held, and can change at any time. Adopt a "go with the flow" attitude early, or the whole thing will make you crazy.
And by the way: Visits are not kept private. You can call and check whether someone else has made a visit for your inmate. I'm not sure why this information is not kept private automatically, but you can ask them to not release information on your visits (although this is not foolproof). It is also possible for other people to call and piggyback on your visit; I'm sure there are good intentions behind this, but it also sets up a lot of unnecessary drama.
Bringing minor children to visitation at the CJC can be tricky; but know that these rules are in place for their safety.
It doesn't matter if the person you're visiting is that child's legal parent/guardian; if you are not that child's parent/guardian, you must have special permission for the child to visit at the CJC.
If you are bringing your own minor children, there are no special considerations.
If you are a legal guardian of the child, but do not look like the child's parent (e.g., a grandparent), it would be wise to bring any legal documents regarding your guardianship with you to visitation.
If you are not the child's parent/guardian, you must obtain permission from the child's parent/guardian. If the parent/guardian is not in the CJC, get a letter from them authorizing you to take their child to the CJC. This letter must be notarized.
If that parent/guardian is in the CJC, you will have to put money on their books so they can buy paper, envelopes and stamps (or they'll have to borrow from another inmate). It doesn't cost very much, but it takes a while; they can only order supplies once per week.
After they get the supplies, they should write a letter granting you guardianship/parental rights, and state that they authorize you to bring their child to the CJC. This letter must also be notarized; there is a free notary available in the jail. As I stated before, this can be a lengthy process, so it is only worthwhile to do it if the parent will be incarcerated for more than, say, 3 weeks.
If the parent/guardian expects they will be incarcerated after, say, a court appearance, it would be wise to prepare this letter in advance, if they wish to see their minor child(ren) while in the El Paso County CJC. Remember that it has to be notarized.
The road to the CJC is pretty terrible. It's badly damaged, floods when it rains, and is unbelievably dark at night. If you have problems driving in bad weather or at night, try to get someone to take you.
I can't say that every person walking on the side of the road just bonded out of jail, but most of the people walking on the side of the road just bonded out of jail. DO NOT pick up hitchhikers (most people aren't trying to hitchhike).
There's a sign that shows you where to turn; you will turn to the WEST off of E. Las Vegas St. and onto E. Las Vegas St (yes, same street name!). You will see the city impound lot on your right; video visitation is on your left. The parking lot is about three times the size of the building.
Try to get there a little early, so you'll have time to check in; depending on where your inmate is being held, you might be able to see them a little earlier than your scheduled time (but no longer than 30 minutes).
Forget everything you've seen in the movies.
First: It's a very small building, about the size of a (larger) public restroom. It's confusing the first time because it's so small, and because the jail is across the street. That's where the "video" in video visitation comes in.
The front desk is right inside the door; if there is someone at the desk, wait near the wall past the desk (there is a sign). You will need to show them your picture ID, so have it ready. If you're saying to yourself, "But I'm driving down there, of course I'd have my ID," I said the same thing once. They told me I would be amazed at how many people must be driving around without their license.
At this point, if you're not used to these kinds of situations (I wasn't), you're probably feeling a little out of place, but no worries! The people working there are professional, kind, and surprisingly judgement free; they really just want to make your visit go smoothly. I thought the experience would be much different; I thought they would all be looking down their noses at me for having a friend in jail. Nothing could be further from the truth!
After you show them your ID, they will tell you which video screen to go to. It feels really strange the first time, sitting in front of a blank screen. It takes a minute for your inmate to appear. They are on a live video feed from the jail across the street; they're not even in the same building. It's pretty disappointing the first time, but it is definitely better than nothing.
Some of the phones are straight crap. I have visited a couple times when the static was so bad that my friend and I were practically yelling at each other. That's when you need to remember that visiting your inmate is a privilege; there may not even be another operational video station on their side, so feel lucky that you have that.
And for God's sake, always remember: Your entire visit is being recorded. If there is anything you don't want someone else to know, don't talk about it at the jail!!
Besides that, it is awkward to discuss sensitive matters when you are sitting next to a total stranger and literally bumping elbows with them. If there are things you want to discuss privately (remembering that they record phone conversations, too), then put money on your inmate's phone account.
I have a whole separate rant about the inmate phone system, which I will post later.
Each visit is 30 minutes, with a 15 minute break in between. On some screens, there's a timer that counts down your 30 minutes. On other screens, there is something like a video counter, but no countdown. If you don't have a countdown on your screen, remember the time you start talking to your inmate, because getting cut off in the middle of a thought, especially if you can't afford to put money on a phone account, is really uncomfortable. It just ends the visit all wrong.