Though the county courts have used the virtual system for the last 15 years, technical problems are prompting officials to modernize.
(TNS) -- Video arraignments will again be available in every Boone County, Ind., court by mid-2018.
While Boone County courts have been using video arraignments for the past 15 years, the system went down earlier this month, explained Sheriff Mike Nielsen. During the last eight months, Nielsen said transport deputies had to make around 15 trips to the courthouse each day, often with multiple inmates in their custody.
The Boone County Commissioners approved a contract between the county and AT&T to provide access to cloud-based software called BlueJeans. The contract will bring all of the courtrooms that have not had the service available for most of this year back up to video capabilities. This service will be brought to the county, in all three courtrooms and the hearing room, for a contract amount of $5,700 per year.
Nielsen said having the software in place again will reduce transport costs and make the courthouse safer. With the system set back up in all of the courtrooms, jail transports will be reduced significantly, with inmates appearing in court only at the judge's request.
"Having to do all of those transports was detrimental to our operations," Nielsen said. "It was also a safety issue. We did probably 15 transports a day. Many of those had multiple inmates — sometimes seven or eight at a time — all with only two deputies with them."
Boone County Senior Information Technology Consultant Sean Horan said all four rooms - the three courtrooms and the hearing room - in the courthouse will be converted to the new software. The current system involves a large monitor that allows defendants to appear in the courtroom, and through the same monitor the judge and prosecutor speak with the defendant. The system experiences video delays and can be hard to understand for court observers.
Horan said the new system is expected to be easy to use, after the learning curve. Each courtroom will have three computers, one at the judge’s bench and one each for the prosecutor and defendant tables.
“This way, there will be more personal contact between all of the people involved,” Horan said.
In addition to the expected savings for the sheriff's office, Horan said this software solution was cheaper than alternative options he considered to update the video arraignment system. Upgrading infrastructure to accommodate new video conferencing units could have cost as much as $250,000, with nerve centers for each room to cost around $15,000. Instead, new computers and cameras will be purchased using $30,000 in the 2017 IT budget and a $5,700 ongoing yearly fee.
“The biggest benefit is cost savings. The most expensive part is the brains behind the system," Horan said. “We won’t have to buy that with this. We can just buy some basic computers and low-end cameras to make this work.”
The county tested the software in Superior Court 2, and Horan told the commissioners that the court found the software easy enough to use.
“They seem satisfied with it, so I feel comfortable expanding to the other courtrooms with this,” he said.
In other IT news, Horan said the new county website is expected to be launched in the next coming months. Due to a number of last minute content submissions for the website, the roll-out was delayed.
However, once the website is complete, Horan said site users will have a much better experience.
Follow reporter Leeann Doerflein on Twitter @LeeannReporting, for breaking news, updates on education and Lebanon city government.
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