By Harold German
In the wake of the tragic shootings that took place in an Atlanta courthouse earlier this month, it is unequivocally clear that there is now a widespread effort by numerous counties to significantly enhance courtroom security. Most counties are addressing the security issue through technology, and the type that appears to be implemented the most is video conferencing. Already in use by legal systems throughout the world, video conferencing is revolutionizing the way cases are tried in America today. By simply installing one video conferencing system at the courthouse and another at the jail, incarcerated defendants can participate in all legal procedures without the municipality enduring the costs and dangers associated with jail-to-courthouse prisoner transport.
The monetary savings to a county become clear when one considers that costly resources need to be allocated, such as: several policemen, a vehicle, courthouse security, gasoline and tolls, among others. Depending on several factors, among them the distance of the courthouse to the jail and geographic location, these costs can sometimes reach into the thousands, even for just one trip. Over the course of a year, the result is a hefty bill that video conferencing aims to eliminate. In October of 2003, the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance, at the request of the Badger State Sheriff's Association, which represents sheriff departments in various Wisconsin counties, initiated a study into the possible time and cost-saving benefits of video conferencing. The study revealed a savings of about $2.7 million if all counties used the technology. That data, along with the obvious security benefits, was enough for Wisconsin's Green County to move 'full speed ahead' with video conferencing.
Like many courthouses, Green County's proposed video conferencing system had been in the planning stages for quite some time and the incident in Atlanta proved to be the spark needed to move the project forward. In an interview featured in an article by Brian Gray of the Monroe Times, Green County Circuit Court Judge James Beer said, "video conferencing is the wave of future. It shows the court is moving into the 21st century." The equipment will enable doctors to appear at mental health proceedings and people who are serving time in prison to appear remotely. "The benefits are limitless. It saves the county a great deal of money and also increases security here at the courthouse."
Video conferencing in the court room also has other uses. In Pennsylvania's Montgomery County, large police departments such as Abington (92 officers) use the technology not only to handle on-camera arraignments for smaller departments in the county but also to digitally process and transmit photographs and fingerprints into criminal databases. In minutes, police can have fingerprints and photographs matched with a defendant's criminal record. In an interview featured in an article by Harry Yanoshak of the Bucks County Courier Times, Montgomery Deputy Chief John Livingood said, "Because it has such technology, Abington and other large departments serve as a central booking center for defendants. Video arraignments are time savers because defendants never have to leave the police station to see the judge. If we had to take a person to see the judge in person, it would effectively take two officers out of service for at least a couple of hours," he said, noting the length of time could be longer if the on-call judge is located across the county.
In Montgomery County, police and deputy sheriffs, rarely constables, shuttle defendants to the county prison, said District Judge Paul Leo, whose court in Hatboro has used video conferencing for about two years. While the technology enables a judge to do work from home, that's not how it's being used in his courtroom, he said, noting how the courts should remain open to the public, regardless if the proceeding is captured on a computer screen.
Video conferencing equipment manufacturers, for their part, have responded to the demand by introducing a series of products aimed at this sector. TANDBERG (www.tandberg.net), a leading manufacturer of video conferencing products, recently introduced the TANDBERG Justice Package, which is an integrated video solution designed specifically for the courtroom environment. As a component of the Justice Package, the 'Judicator' conferencing system allows for simple video and audio control directly from the judge's bench. The Judicator enables: arraignments, remote visitations, parole and mental-health hearings, depositions, medical appointments, sensitive witness and expert testimonies, attorney consultations, among others.
While manufactures are providing the product, solution providers such as IVCi (www.ivci.com) are providing the education and support. From courthouses to jails, and prisons to law firms, solution providers, who have been preaching the many benefits of video conferencing, are finally being heard. These days the technology is becoming easier to justify.
When schools get started with video conferencing, many ask themselves what resources are available to connect to educational content. Here is an excellent list of organizations that allow any classroom to explore the world around them:
Reservations: e-mail DistanceLearning@wcs.org or call 718-220-5131. $125 fee maximum of 35 students participating in one conference video-taping not permitted, must reserve 3 weeks in advance; lessons include extensive teacher support materials. Lessons Currently Available:
- K - 3 Animal Colors 45 minutes
- K - 3 Moves and Meals 45 minutes
- K - 3 Size and Shapes 45 minutes
- 4 - 6 Food Webs 60 minutes
- 5 - 8 Awesome Adaptations 60 minutes
- 7 -12 Gorillas, Gentle Giants in Crisis 60 minutes
Provides 70+ content providers for video conferencing, including zoos, museums, businesses, research and science centers.
Over 50 Vision Athena content providers listing hundreds of conferences. Schools must contact the content provider directly to participate in a conference.
Learners at all levels have the opportunity to interact directly with NASA scientists to gain a new appreciation for the importance of science and education.
JOHNSON SPACE CENTER
Glenn Learning Technologies Project—NASA virtual visits—more than 35 different topics adapted for grade levels 1-12
ALBANY INSTITUTE OF HISTORY AND ART
45-minute lessons for k-12. Availability: 518-463-4478 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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