Teleconferencing system offers big savings

Thursday, May 5, 2011
New technology Democrat Photo No, it's not Judge Judy on that television screen. Judge Victor Head presided over a teleconferenced arraignment with an inmate currently incarcerated with the Missouri Department of Corrections on charges the inmate faces in Barry County. The arraignment, held Tuesday, allowed the inmate to appear in court in Barry County without leaving the prison facility in northern Missouri. The savings to the county for the 15-minute conference was over $800.

The Barry County Judicial Center is making a change in how routine arraignments are now handled. The 39th Circuit Court is now utilizing the Polycom teleconferencing system, and it's already bringing a financial savings to the county.

The $10,000 piece of equipment, purchased from law library funds, has nearly paid for itself through savings in manpower, travel expenses and housing of inmates currently incarcerated in other prisons throughout the state who face charges in Barry County.

"It will take 13 arraignments, or short hearings, to pay for itself," said Barry County Circuit Clerk Craig Williams. "Today's (arraignment) is our 10th."

The teleconferencing system allows a prisoner housed with the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) to appear before the judge during arraignments without leaving the prison.

"It typically costs the county $812 to transport a prisoner from the DOC at Moberly," Sheriff Mick Epperly said. "That's if they aren't considered dangerous and we have to send additional personnel along as guards."

A breakdown of costs provided by Epperly indicates 528 miles to the correctional facility charged at 50 cents per mile for a one-way trip totals $264. Transport time for personnel to make the 10-hour drive at a rate of $10.70 per hour for a one-way trip costs $107, and two days of housing at the Barry County Jail totaling $70.

"That's an expensive trip for a 15-minute hearing," Epperly said. " We often have six or seven writs a month, and sometimes the hearing doesn't take place because of conflicts or because someone's attorney doesn't show. Then we have to re-schedule the arraignment and make another round trip for the same prisoner."

"This system allows us to have the inmate in one facility be able to communicate with the judge here and his attorney in yet another location, which saves time and travel expenses for everyone involved," Williams added.

The system is currently configured to communicate easily with other facilities throughout the state with the same brand of technology.

"The feds don't use Polycom, so we have to bridge to their systems," Williams explained. "But everything is secure, because it runs through the State of Missouri firewalls."

Inmates charged with crimes in Barry County must sign a waiver before utilizing the teleconferencing system, as do their attorneys.

Each 15-minute hearing is given a one-hour time slot in order to ensure that all parties have adequate time to exchange information and answer questions.

In Tuesday's exhibition of the system, the prisoner was assigned a public defender from Monett.

"Do you have her name and address?" the inmate inquired.

Judge Victor Head and his clerks graciously retrieved the information and supplied it to the inmate.

"We'll set the next hearing for July," Head said.

With about 50 days of his current sentence remaining, the defendant will have to make his own travel arrangements for that appearance.

Because the county is seeing significant savings though use of the Polycom system, commissioners have approved an added fax line for the express use of receiving waivers and other paperwork from inmates and their attorneys.

"This system will not only be used across Missouri, but throughout the world," Williams said. "As long as they have the same equipment and access to the Internet, we can use it."

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