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“It is a step towards making prisons more humane,” social welfare officer Cherry Huet told IPS, as she watched inmates talk to their families and loved ones on the computer via Skype.Huet, who works at the Correctional Insititute for Women (CIW), spent the past weeks interviewing inmates at the institute to find out who among them would benefit most from the new service.But two weeks ago, with the launch of a virtual visitation programme in the prison, Sarah finally got to see her youngest daughter and speak to her two eldest children for the first time in over a decade.“I am happy that my prayers have been answered and they are all growing up to be good kids,” Sarah told IPS, unable to hold back her tears at finally being able to see and talk to her children.The “e-dalaw” (Filipino for visit) or electronic prison visit programme, allows prisoners to communicate with their families and loved ones via Skype video chat.According to the Bureau of Corrections, up to 40 percent of inmates never get visited by their families.This is especially true for inmates who hail from provinces far from the capital Manila, where the jail is located.Internet cafes have popped up in remote provinces, providing people with access to affordable virtual technologies such as free video calls and online chat.

For instance, Sarah’s family would need to take a 20-hour trip via inter-island ferry and find a place where they could stay for at least two nights in order to visit her.

However, for prisoners who have counted the years to see the faces and hear the voices of their loved ones, waiting in line for a precious few minutes on Skype is a minor inconvenience.

Users of video services, such as Skype, should be aware of a variety of scams that may use footage and images captured without your knowledge, to blackmail you.

Before the e-visit programme was implemented on Oct.

13, Sarah, like many inmates languishing in Manila’s overcrowded prisons, had endured years without any visits.

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