County jail revisits visitation technology following sex offender’s escape

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MORGAN COUNTY, Ala. –  Morgan County authorities said 30-year-old John Kaleb Gillespie broke out of the Morgan County Jail two weeks ago. At some point after his escape, he met up with a 16-year-old girl. The two were found Monday near Bessemer.

It’s not clear how they knew each other, but now we know the two were communicating while the convicted sex offender was in the Morgan County  Jail.

WHNT News 19 has learned that jail policy prohibits this type of interaction without supervision.

“When it comes to visitation in the jail there’s two things you need to think of. There’s on-site and off-site,” explained Mike Swafford, spokesperson for the sheriff’s office.

The Morgan County Jail has very specific visitation rules and a set schedule. But there is more than one way to interact with inmates.

“For off-site, which is video visitation, similar to FaceTime, it’s not through Facebook, it’s a separate app,” Swafford added.

The Jail Funds app, gives users the option to schedule 15-minute video calls with inmates for about 6 dollars. Registration requires users to enter their birthdate and driver’s license number, and according to a statement from the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office on the app, anyone under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

“What shouldn’t happen is minors should not be able to interact with sex offenders without other folks knowing,” said Swafford. “Now there’s nothing that keeps a minor from interacting with a sex offender, depending on their case in general.”

That’s a requirement for in-person visits as well.

“On-site, we control here. There are stipulations of what can happen, can’t happen. For us, minors have to be accompanied by an adult,” he added.

Morgan County jailers are supposed to supervise all video calls and it’s not clear what happened in this case. Now the sheriff’s office says it is working to figure out how to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Morgan County Sheriff’s Office said it reached out to the app’s developer to find out if there’s a way to better safeguard underage users. WHNT News 19 reached out as well, they have not responded to us.

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