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October 31, 2012

Efficiency & Justice for All with Video Conferencing in Courts

By Steve Anderson
Contributing TMCnet Writer

The right to a speedy trial is one of several enshrined by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but they don't happen by themselves. They happen thanks to dedicated court personnel who help the court system run smoothly and with as little cost as possible to taxpayers. But when technology can step in and help even further, as was found today to be the case during a press conference on the subject sponsored by Cisco Systems (News - Alert), it's worth a closer look.

The press conference in question featured a conclusion by an array of panelists that the use of video conferencing in the justice system--prisons and courts alike--is reaping significant benefits for society as a whole. Not only are courts finding their caseloads moving a lot faster with video conferencing, they're also seeing improvements to efficiency and safety overall. This pays fringe benefits to taxpayers, as better efficiency means reduced waste and lower overall costs for the taxpayer.

The press conference examined three geographically-varied areas of the country and how video conferencing affected them. Specifically, they went to the Ninth District Court in Florida, Ada County in Idaho, and Collin County in Texas to get their results, which were overwhelmingly positive.

The three locations in mind each had stories to tell about the impact of video conferencing on their overall proceedings; Florida used video conferencing to allow for virtual interpreters to perform their translation methods by remote, saving money on transport costs that would have ordinarily have to have been spent to get the interpreters to the court. In the first year, Florida saved over $40,000 on contract interpreter costs, which nearly tripled to $115,000 in savings this past year. The initial investment was recovered in just nine months, making the rest of the savings direct savings for the taxpayer.

Collin County, meanwhile, recounted how video conferencing allowed lawyers to immediately share plea offers, and in turn, saved the county over $125,000 in costs. Ada County used videoconferencing systems to reduce the need to transport inmates to court, which not only saved costs for using deputies to transport prisoners, it also improved on a safety level as there was a lessened need to move prisoners throughout one or more facilities.

Some have previously broached the issue of using video conferencing as a replacement for in-prison visitations as well, though this approach has been much more controversial than other such uses for the service. While there have been cost savings associated with this, the impact to the inmates themselves has been questioned as perhaps a misapplication of justice. Though in some cases--like with the Ninth Circuit Court's use of virtual interpreters--the benefits are much clearer and the potential impact is substantially lower.

Videoconferencing may not solve all the problems associated with the justice system, but it will certainly go a long way toward saving taxpayer dollars while still providing the kind of swift and fair justice we all have come to expect from the legal system.

Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli

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