Within the last few years, more and more counties and district courts have implemented “video court” systems within court rooms to better streamline prisoner arraignments. Video conferencing is helping court systems be more efficient by serving more cases in less time. It is also effective in saving tax payer dollars as prisoner travel costs are eliminated.

However, one area that is getting more discussion lately is how video court will impact public safety for the greater good.

Think about it for a moment. If video had been used many years ago, then the classic TV series or the movie starring Harrison Ford – The Fugitive – would have no story line. Dr. Richard Kimble, the main character, never would have escaped while being transported.

While The Fugitive is a fictional story, real stories of prisoners escaping authorities while being transported happen more often than you think. In Howard County, MD, a prisoner serving a 106-year life sentence recently escaped from police while being transported to Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center for a psychiatric evaluation. And in Houston, Texas just last month, an inmate escaped while being transported in a Texas County van.

Prisoner escapes put public safety at risk. And even if authorities receive a tip about a potential inmate escaping, an increase in security measures must be put in place to prevent these attempts from happening.

In state superior courts, where felony-level cases are heard, there is a strong argument for moving forward in implementing video court proceedings to eliminate the threat of a potential escape.

Take for instance, Island County Jail in Whidbey Island, Washington. Following tips received that five inmates were planning an escape, the county implemented a video court system to avoid bringing inmates all the way to Oak Harbor district court, and to the superior court located in Coupeville.

Using a Polycom video conferencing system, each inmate, his or her attorney, the prosecutor and guards will gather in front of a video conferencing camera and monitor located in a room at the jail facility. This video conferencing system will then connect everyone to a courtroom in which they will appear before a judge.

All participants will be able to see, hear and speak with each other. These proceedings also remain public as the people in the courtroom will be able to see and listen to the participants on the monitor in the jail facility.

Not only will implementing video court systems impact public safety for the greater good, but court deputies will also no longer need to spend time during their day physically transporting prisoners to the courtrooms.

Currently, corrections deputies must escort as many as 20 inmates in groups of five to court for Monday afternoon hearings. Leveraging the video system will eliminate this travel time. It will also reduce the use of “extraordinary security measures” that can involve the “Hanibal-Lecter-style restraint chair or the Bandi-It shock collar for humans” to get inmates to cooperate, as Jail Chief Jose Briones points out.

“This will greatly improve security in the court, and be more efficient because in-custody defendants will no longer have to be brought to court by the deputies.” – Superior court Judge Alan Hancock.

Video court proceedings are a benefit to everyone. State, county, and local governments can eliminate the threat of a possible inmate escape that can put the safety of the public at risk. Video court systems will also continue to help streamline efficiencies when transporting prisoners, which will save taxpayer dollars.

Is your city, county or state using video in a unique way to save lives and dollars? Tell us your story, and WorkSpace Today may feature it in a future article.