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By Adam Prestridge, Special to the Standard
Published @ TheBrewtonStandard.com
Monday, December 28, 2009 10:06 AM CST
Video conferencing in a prison setting has its advantages and is becoming increasingly popular. The Alabama Department of Corrections, in conjunction with the Alabama Administrative Office of the Courts and the Circuit Court of Escambia County, has launched a video pilot at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore.
The problem is common nationwide. Processing and transporting inmates to and from court is costly, with inherent risk to public safety and security personnel. Video conferencing, that includes full motion video and audio via closed circuit cameras, connects the courthouse with the prison and eliminates the dilemma.
In early November, Circuit Judge Bert Rice heard four cases via video conference with inmates incarcerated at Holman Correctional Facility. “I like the idea of being able to look at someone and see them, and for them to see the judge. From an administration of justice standpoint, it’s a better situation to include them more fully in the process.”
Video conferencing has been used in various federal and state courts for more than a decade. The process, when fully implemented, could save Alabama hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Chief Justice (Sue Bell) Cobb immediately saw the utility of being able to complete this process,” said Marty Ramsay, Deputy Director of the Administrative Office of Courts. “We feel we need to embrace this technology on a statewide scale.”
It is not uncommon for judges to hold thousands of post conviction hearings on an annual basis, most filed by inmates behind bars. Such actions may raise claims of innocence or newly discovered evidence. In 2008, 1,383 such motions were filed with state trial and appellate courts. In Atmore alone, more than 2,200 inmates are housed at Holman and Fountain Correctional
Facilities – enough to keep Judge Rice and the Escambia County courts busy.
“We learn as we go, but the technology has certainly arrived and we need to
use and expand it,” said Rice. “This is a good circuit to be the pilot with two large prisons and a large volume of inmate cases. We can better serve justice with these proceedings.”
Video court hearings will be conducted in a manner that honors the due process rights of all defendants by providing a clear, accurate visual and audio representation of all parties involved in the proceedings. The link was established through AOC video gateway directly from the facility to the court. It makes use of the existing IP network so there’s no additional connection cost to the DOC.
“Elmore County is perhaps next,” said Ramsay. “Eventually, we’d like to set up as many as eighteen video conferencing systems across the state. Elmore County is a target based on the number of prisons in that county.”
Expanding the technology statewide – allowing for the potential of accommodating a variety of courtroom proceedings – comes with an estimated price tag of more than $150,000. Video conferencing will potentially save millions over time but with budget reductions at the AOC and the ADOC funds are not available to complete the expansion. Ultimately, the use of new technology will help to conserve valuable corrections, court and law enforcement resources.
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