Law by Video

Published 3:17 am Wednesday, December 30, 2009

By By Adam Prestridge
Officials with the Alabama Department of Corrections hope advancements in technology will save the state money and aid in the safety of the public and security personnel.
For inmates scheduled in court, costs add up for processing and transportation. There is also a risk of escape or injury during travel.
Those expenses and risks are just what the Alabama Department of Corrections wants to eliminate. In an attempt to do so, the ADOC, in conjunction with the Alabama Administrative Office of the Courts and the Circuit Court of Escambia County, recently launched a video pilot at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore.
According to a release issued by ADOC Public Information Officer Brian Corbett, this type of video conferencing has been used in various federal and state courts for more than a decade. He said the process could save the State of Alabama thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Escambia County Circuit Judge Bert Rice heard four cases via video conferencing, which provide full motion video and audio via closed circuit cameras, in November with inmates currently incarcerated at Holman Correctional Facility.
According to Corbett, 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, more than 2,200 inmates are incarcerated at Holman and Fountain correctional facilities.
Although the new video conferencing will save money in the long run, getting it up and running statewide, allowing for a variety of courtroom proceedings, carries a lofty price tag. According to the release, expanding the technology statewide would cost more than $150,000.
Ramsay said Elmore County is a target based on the number of prisons in the county.
There has not been a timeframe set for the expansion of the video conferencing systems. According to Corbett, with budget cuts at the ADOC and AOC, funds are not currently available.
Video court hearings will be conducted in a manner that honors the due process rights of all defendants by providing clear, accurate visual and audio representation of all parties involved in the proceedings, according to the release.
The release further states that the link was established though AOC video gateway directly from the facility to the court. It makes use of the existing IP network, so there is no additional connection cost to the DOC.
Over time, video conferencing will save millions, but for now, Escambia County will continue to serve as the program’s pilot as the courts continue to adapt to the program.

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