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Jail-based Video-Conferencing Bogs Down


May 27, 2014

Video conferencing is well out of the boardroom these days and has made a name for itself in supporting a range of vertical industries — including in law enforcement and the legal arena, where remote testimony and interrogation can be a boon for cash-strapped public service departments. But for a wide-ranging installation in India, implementation issues have delayed the use of a video conferencing system for three years now, providing an object lesson for others that may come after.

The system, which was installed in 2011 between district jails and courts in five districts, was meant to help the Prison Department and the police cope with a lack of staff. By allowing prisoners to “go to court” virtually, it cuts down on guard manpower, and also minimizes opportunities for prisoners to gain access to mobile phones and contraband during transport. It also cuts down on jailbreaks.

The department has spent about $620,000 to install the system in Thiruvananthapuram, Kottayam, Ernakulam, Kollam and Thrissur district jails. However, the fully operational platform has yet to be used thanks to software glitches that have made the system slow—therefore, judges and magistrates are choosing not to opt for it. It’s a classic case of the user experience hampering the uptake of a good technology idea. The lone exception is the system at Ernakulam Sub-Jail, which was used for the trial of NIA cases when terror convicts were lodged there.

“There are instances when inmates cannot be taken to court due to staff shortage and they have to wait till the next posting. In such situations, video conferencing comes in handy,” officials told the New Indian Express newspaper.

The government plans to update the software soon, and expand the project to all district jails; the Finance Commission has allocated $2.3 million for the initiative.

“Once the issues with the software are rectified, the system will be made use of. We are also planning to introduce the system in all district jails,” T P Senkumar, DGP and Director-General of Prisons and Correctional Services told the paper, adding that the upgrades were already underway.

 

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