New York

An alternative to bleak jail visits: The video chat

  • In this Dec. 12, 2016 photo, Sebastian Benjamin, left, talks via video conference from New York's Rikers Island to his sister and nephew, right, on a video screen at the Brooklyn Public Library. Benjamin has been in detention awaiting trial on a murder charge for more than three years. For the inmate it's been a blessing to see the child he frequently baby-sat and played with. "I had a close bond with him, I'm missing a lot," the 25-year-old said. The program "is good for us. This has been a great thing." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

    In this Dec. 12, 2016 photo, Sebastian Benjamin, left, talks via video conference from New York's Rikers Island to his sister and nephew, right, on a video screen at the Brooklyn Public Library. Benjamin has been in detention awaiting trial on a murder charge for more than three years. For the inmate it's been a blessing to see the child he frequently baby-sat and played with. "I had a close bond with him, I'm missing a lot," the 25-year-old said. The program "is good for us. This has been a great thing." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this Dec. 12, 2016 photo, Justis James, 6, reads a book with his mother, Sherelle Benjamin, at the Brooklyn Public Library as they participate in a Skype video call to her brother, Sebastian Benjamin, at Riker's Island in New York. Benjamin has been in detention awaiting trial on a murder charge for more than three years. The Brooklyn Public Library started the video visitations in 2014 as an outgrowth of the work the library system did onsite at Rikers encouraging detained parents to read to their children, said Nick Higgins, director of outreach services. The video calls are free to the users, and are meant to supplement physical visits to Rikers and not replace them, he said. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

    In this Dec. 12, 2016 photo, Justis James, 6, reads a book with his mother, Sherelle Benjamin, at the Brooklyn Public Library as they participate in a Skype video call to her brother, Sebastian Benjamin, at Riker's Island in New York. Benjamin has been in detention awaiting trial on a murder charge for more than three years. The Brooklyn Public Library started the video visitations in 2014 as an outgrowth of the work the library system did onsite at Rikers encouraging detained parents to read to their children, said Nick Higgins, director of outreach services. The video calls are free to the users, and are meant to supplement physical visits to Rikers and not replace them, he said. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this Dec. 12, 2016 photo, Sherelle Benjamin, left, and her son, Justis James, join in a video visit from the Brooklyn Public Library to her brother, Sebastian Benjamin, right, who is incarcerated at Riker's Island in New York. Supporters say the electronic visits aren't a replacement for physical visits, but a way to supplement them. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

    In this Dec. 12, 2016 photo, Sherelle Benjamin, left, and her son, Justis James, join in a video visit from the Brooklyn Public Library to her brother, Sebastian Benjamin, right, who is incarcerated at Riker's Island in New York. Supporters say the electronic visits aren't a replacement for physical visits, but a way to supplement them. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)  (The Associated Press)

Visiting an inmate at New York City's Riker's Island jail means a long bus ride, intense security screening and hours waiting in a joyless visitor center.

Now, city officials hope to give some prisoners' families a chance to shortcut that process by expanding a program that allows people to chat with inmates via video hookup at libraries.

The Brooklyn Public Library started hosting video visitations in 2014 at one of its branches as part of a program to get inmates to read to their children

By next month, the service will be expanded to 22 libraries across the city.

There's no way the small-scale video program could replace physical visits.

Rikers gets 1,500 visitors daily.

But they could be an alternative for people reluctant to go, like people with children.