Plenty of courthouses perform arraignments, initial appearances and other routine justice work by video, saving the cost and danger of transporting inmates.
A video hearing in Limestone County In Limestone County, Ala., they’ve integrated the video system with its document management system (from Cabinet NG) providing nearly instant savings and setting the stage for further integration among local government offices.
When local judges came to county IT Director David Freeman with a notion for video hearings, he turned to the county’s existing Cisco network and phone environment. The Cisco 7985 phone is an A/V unit with a 4-by-6-inch screen and Webcam. For now, the device provides just point-to-point CCTV between the local detention center and the county courthouse about 2.5 miles away.
That system went live late last summer and is saving at a rate of $32,000 or more a year, meaning the county should recover its $60,000 upfront costs within two years–not to mention the public safety benefit of keeping the inmates in the jail, instead of on the road and in the courthouse.
It used to take a pair of detention offices two or three hours to transport the eight to 10 daily hearing subjects from the jail to court and back again. Now, the same group gets its hearings done in 20 to 30 minutes, under the attention of just one officer, in a secure area of the jail.
While courts have held video hearings for years, Limestone wanted to take the next step of integrating all the legal paperwork. “If we’re going to this, then lets automate the process,” Freeman said.
The county was already using Cabinet NG for other document management needs. The county created electronic versions of the documents used in court and established a PIN-based authentication system. A judge enters his or her code and the appropriate signature appears on the form; the prisoner, too, signs on a signature pad at the jail. The judge hits “print” and the document is logged, with a printout at the jail for the defendant.
The system earned Limestone County and Cabinet NG the inaugural Smart Government Award in the public private partnership category from Revenue Discovery Systems, a tax collection, administration and auditing company for government clients.
The county has plans to expand the system (and is running fiber between city and county offices) so that it will automatically send copies to the appropriate offices (the Clerk of Court, District Attorney and defense attorney, for example) and has purchased the Cisco gear needed to stream the video to others, such as Webcam-enabled defense attorneys. So, a defendant will be able to view a split screen featuring both judge and defense lawyer.
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