A documentary released online for the first time on Gothamist examines a unique program at the Brooklyn Public Library that enabled relatives of people incarcerated on Rikers Island to visit their loved ones via video.

The short film from Field of Vision and Firelight Media, titled “Video Visit,” was shot in 2017 and 2018 and was previously shown in film festivals. It opens by laying out the difficulty of visiting loved ones at Rikers because of the jails’ relative inaccessibility via public transportation, invasive security practices and frequent visit cancellations due to lockdowns. It focuses on one mother and her jailed son, illustrating how family separation is inherent in incarceration.

“The fact that it is so hard to visit Rikers — there’s a violence in that,” said director Malika Zouhali-Worrall. Even the Brooklyn Public Library program was imperfect, she said, because “human touch was lost.”

Skyrocketing violence, lack of access to medical care, and an extraordinarily high rate of deaths in custody are plaguing Rikers.

Zouhali-Worrall first became interested in the Brooklyn Public Library’s range of services for incarcerated people and their families, including mobile libraries that visit local jails, and literacy services that allow incarcerated parents to record themselves reading books to their children. She zeroed in on the video visit program, which she said was the first of its kind in the country.

The program was paused during the COVID-19 pandemic and did not restart, according to Michael Carey, coordinator of justice initiatives at the library. But the Department of Correction has since introduced video televisits on the weekends, allowing loved ones to schedule free video calls from their own computers or phones.