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States Turn to Videoconferencing in Prisons to Save Money

By Al Tompkins, PoynterOnline
5/18/09

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More than half the states in the country now allow inmates to talk with doctors using videoconferencing technology. "Telemedicine," as it's called, cuts down on transportation costs and is something more cash-strapped states are considering to save money.

Increasingly, inmates face judges or the parole board by video rather than having guards drive them across the state to an appointment. Just as an example, Arizona said this kind of teleconferencing has saved taxpayers nearly a quarter of a million dollars in one year.

Stateline.org said some are weary of relying too heavily on electronic contact:

"Relying on technology to keep inmates behind bars makes them 'disappear more and more from the public consciousness, and I think there's a (negative) long-term consequence of that,'" said Nancy Stoller, a professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz and the coordinator of a jail and prison task force at the American Public Health Association.
"Telemedicine is not a new invention, but experts say the recession could drive more states to consider it. Many of those that already rely on telemedicine, meanwhile, are using it for a wider range of purposes."
"In Georgia, about 700 of the state prison system's 1,000 monthly videoconference consultations between doctors and inmates are for psychiatric — not physical — problems," said Alan Adams, director of the Office of Health Services for the Georgia Department of Corrections.
"Adams said he is surprised at how popular 'telepsychiatry' — as the practice is called — has proven among doctors and inmates alike. Prisoners who might otherwise have reservations about face-to-face psychiatric evaluations, Adams said, tend to speak more openly when they are connected to doctors through a video link."
"'It takes some of the personal nature of the contact away and allows the inmate to be more open and free,' Adams said, predicting that more states will use telepsychiatry." End of article.

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