Budget control serves as a constant issue for any government agency or department. Obviously, some expenses are easy to monitor and ultimately control. However, others – like those associated with transporting prisoners to pretrial arraignments – lack predictability. And, as a result, can rapidly spiral out of control, and ultimate wreak havoc on an already taxed budget.
Case in Point
In Michigan, it’s estimated that each arraignment transport costs tax payers approximately $800. However, as this Huron Daily Tribune article discusses, the costs can quickly escalate. For example, a transport from a jail in the state’s Upper Peninsula to a courtroom in Lansing with jurisdiction costs roughly $1800 – all for what is often a fifteen-minute hearing. Such an expense is difficult to justify in a state that is determined to trim its budget.
Compounding the issue, the transport process can unnecessarily expose the public to potentially dangerous prisoners, as this San Antonio Tribune article discusses. Like the suspect accused of reportedly walking into the Bad Axe Michigan Walmart to return merchandise for a refund. When his request was denied, he pulled out a handgun and demanded money.
Or the case of the Kalamazoo Uber driver who allegedly killed six people in a February 2016 shooting spree that garnered national attention. The defendant in this case became belligerent during a court appearance and the judge ruled that he’s going to serve the rest of his case from the jail location.
In both instances, Michigan judges are leveraging video collaboration to avoid the expenses or danger associated with prisoner transport. After electing to start installing Polycom systems in courtrooms and judicial chambers throughout the state in 2009, Michigan has realized clear benefits firsthand. With approximately 800 systems in place statewide to-date, the collaborative communications system has saved taxpayers and authorities close to $3 million since 2010.
Arraignments are only a starting point with the number of court procedures approved for video conferencing continuing to grow. Specifically, pretrial conferences, plea hearings, extradition waivers, misdemeanor sentencing, and expert witness testimonies are all on the approved list. “If there’s an exhibit or a video that needs to be shared in a courtroom, we can share live content at high definition quality,” Polycom Account Manager Rob Mackey said. “Forensic scientists now don’t have to travel 12 hours to testify in a bunch of different cases. Video allows them to testify in multiple courts in one day.”
The use of video collaboration has increased nearly tenfold in Michigan in recent years with one in four hearings leveraging the technology. “The savings are immense, and this is just the beginning,” says Michael Swayze, judicial information systems manager for the State Supreme Court, which has installed Polycom solutions in every county to simplify video connections and enable individual courts to more easily use their environments for training, scheduling, and administrative duties.
Michigan will ultimately video-enable 900 courtrooms statewide, explains Swayze: “County and municipal courts are all looking to cut expenses. Once these courts are equipped with video, they could collectively save five to 10 times more than the state is saving now.”