Jail, courts may increase use of video to cut costs [The Eagle, Bryan, Texas]
(Eagle (Bryan, TX) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 06--The Brazos County Commissioners Court is considering increasing the use of streaming video for jail visitation, consultation and courtroom testimony.
The commissioners didn't directly address the idea at their Tuesday meeting, but pulled an agenda item for document management software and instead mulled using the funds for the video streaming.
"There's just a lot of potential out there," County Judge Duane Peters said. "We would probably want to ease into it."
The county already streams video in all of the above-mentioned instances, but seeks to expand its ability to do so. The proposal would not disallow the face-to-face visitations or testimonies, Peters said.
The county is considering allowing video visitation to be streamed into and from the jail. Visitation is already done via video, but visitors must go to the jail. The new technology, Peters said, would allow for someone out of town or out of state without the ability to travel to visit an inmate at the Brazos County Jail. Doctors or therapists could also treat inmates using the technology, and attorneys could reach their clients from the office.
The county would also increase its ability for video testimonies in the courtroom. Peters said he had the judges review the technology and that they seemed on board.
The practice is not uncommon in metropolitan cities, but Brazos County would become one of the first mid-sized counties to adopt the technology.
Peters said the county had been earnestly working on the move for about six months. He said it could be implemented by the summer at the earliest, but could take up to another year.
The county is looking to purchase software, cameras and monitors for the increased streaming. Peters was noncommittal on a price range for the equipment. The pulled agenda item called for $129,000 in first-year funding.
The video streaming would cut down on labor costs associated with checking visitors in and out of the jail, transportation costs from jail to courthouse and associated labor, and limit litigation associated with prisoners being transported into and out of the general population.
"I think it will make the court process more efficient, and I believe it may actually save us money," Peters said. "Even though it will cost us to get it set up, I believe there are certainly some cost savings."
Peters stressed that the technology would be safe and confidential.
"If you're dealing with a defendant and an attorney, you have to be secure," Peters said. "You can't have a potential somebody hack in there and listen to it."
Brazos County Sheriff Chris Kirk supports the proposal. He said the option for video communications could make the jail run more efficiently.
"When you transport an inmate, it's time consuming and it adds a level of risk," Kirk said. "It's really an exciting concept for us, and we're hoping we can implement it for Brazos County."
Brazos County District Attorney Jarvis Parsons is also on board. He said he has helped brainstorm with county officials.
"The DA is willing and ready to do whatever to save the taxpayers money on that front," Parsons said. "If we can help the county out by saving money in terms of plea negotiations and daily dockets, I think that's good."
Defense attorney Cameron Reynolds, partner at James & Reynolds Law firm, was particularly excited about the video visitation.
"That would be great," Reynolds said. "I think lawyers would love that. I've talked to some lawyers about that, and I think it would be a very welcomed addition ... As lawyers, really our only resource is our time and advice."
The idea of video testimony had Reynolds more reserved. He said it would be better suited for civil rather than criminal cases.
"As a defense lawyer, I want to be able to question a witness in person ... there's nothing like being there in person with a jury and a judge in a contested matter," Reynolds said.
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