Personal visits from family and friends are rare for the inmates of a Krasnoyark prison, not so much because of government sanctions but rather due to the fact the that many of the inmates are hundreds of miles from their homes. The prison is too far away and it is too costly to travel and until now that hurdle was a formidable one. Prison authorities have made virtual visits through Skype, an Internet communication tool available for the inmates.
In the words of Aleksandr Neryakhin, a father who comes to his nearest prison-link centerevery week to speak with his son, Denis had this to say:
“When you haven’t seen someone for a while you really miss their face. My son's too far away to go and visit. Instead, this Internet visit is a chance to actually see what he looks like now. And I can see that my son looks good, which means he’s leading a healthy lifestyle. That's reassuring.”
Of course, these virtual visits are not the same as seeing a loved one in person, but it is more up front and personal than a phone call or a letter. The inmates are grateful for the new technology that provides these virtual visits, as many of them have not seen their family members and friends for years.
Sergey Tefanov, a prisoner, said:
“Internet visits with relatives are definitely a good idea. Prisons are so far away that few people can afford to make the trip. By using the Internet we still keep our social rights.”
But there is a flip side to these visits as according to prison authorities, they present some security and logistic problems. Despite this, the Internet visiting system does decrease the risks of smuggling and the added prison expense of staff escorting the inmates. The plus side, however, is undeniable, as convicts who have greater social contact with the outside world find the transition into life-after-prison easier, and they are less likely to re-offend.
It is hoped that the success of this innovative system of virtual prison visits will have far reaching effects into all of the prisons in Russia.
Time alone will tell.