Overcrowded jails and clogged court systems are realities unlikely to disappear in the near future. But video arraignment may help ease some of the strain on the court system.

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SOLUTION SUMMARY

PROBLEM/SITUATION: Overcrowded courts create logistical problems for

transporting prisoners.

SOLUTION: Avoid transporting prisoners to courthouse for arraignment by using videoconferencing technology.

CONTACT: G2 Research Inc. 415/964-2400.

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By Meghan Cotter

G2 Research Inc.

Overcrowded jails and clogged court dockets are pushing courts to explore the use of videoconferencing to accelerate cases and reduce prisoner transport between jail and the courthouse. One step in the criminal justice process which can be addressed without hindering a fair hearing and eventual trial is the arraignment, when the defendant enters a plea. Defendants usually have to be transported from jails to the courthouse, costing governments money for transportation and

security.

The arraignment process in particular cries out for an injection of technology and streamlining, if anything because of the sheer number of agencies and individuals involved. A typical arraignment can involve a myriad of agencies, including police officers or sheriff's deputies, district attorneys, public defenders and court employees.

VIDEO ARRAIGNMENT

According to the National Center of State Courts, there are some 200 video arraignment solutions installed in state court systems today. As video compression technology becomes even more affordable, interest in video arraignment will continue to increase. While each state has different statutes that may apply to the technology's use, a U.S. Supreme Court opinion cleared the way for courts to use video arraignment for first appearance felonies and for misdemeanors, which represented 77 percent of 12 million new criminal cases in 1991.

Increased numbers of jurisdictions are seriously considering the feasibility of video arraignment, primarily because it addresses some of their most pressing problems in a cost-effective manner. The areas in which video arraignment can help save cost include:

* Inmate processing. The hours required for sheriff, police and corrections personnel to process the necessary paperwork and prepare inmates for transportation to court are substantial.

* Security. Agencies incur heavy expenses associated with providing security and supervision for inmates who are being transported from jail to the courthouse and back to jail.

* Transportation. Actual costs associated with the transportation of inmates include costs of hiring a bus driver, operating a bus, gas and long-term maintenance of the vehicle itself.

* Court holding facility. The courts need to maintain holding facilities, provide uniformed officers for supervising prisoners, and post an officer in every courtroom in which an inmate is present.

* Release of Defendants. If a defendant is released during arraignment, the defendant must first be transported back to jail in order to process paperwork prior to being released. If this procedure is not completed before dinner time, the department of corrections also incurs the cost of providing the soon-to-be-released defendant with a meal, and the former defendant has to spend more time in the jail house.

SOLUTION

Basic components of a video arraignment solution include a two-way, full-motion color video system of closed circuit cameras, color monitors, audio systems and videotape systems. The most important component of the system, however, is an advanced networking infrastructure, often fiber-optic cable, that connects the courthouse with the jail.

Once a video arraignment system is in place, inmates don't leave the jail for courthouse arraignment appearances. They simply appear on video for arraignment in courts located in a different physical location.

BENEFITS

A video arraignment solution provides benefits to all parties involved. Regardless of jurisdiction size or arraignment caseload, public safety agencies, departments of corrections, and courts throughout the country can benefit from video arraignment. The primary benefits include:

* Reduced security risks associated with transporting and