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Video program could cut courtroom costs

Videoconferencing pilot attempts to reduce inmate-transport costs

Posted: April 28, 2009 10:43 p.m.
Updated: April 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
If a videoconferencing pilot program designed to minimize challenges of inmate court appearances proves to be successful and saves money, the technologically-savvy maneuver could eventually make its way to the Santa Clarita Valley.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved Tuesday a one-year videoconferencing pilot for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to reduce inmate movement for court appearances and visiting purposes.

"If you think about the numbers of inmates that have to be transported back and forth to arraignments, many requiring escort from a sheriff's deputy, videoconferencing is a way to cut those costs, reduce congestion and improve security for jails and for the public at large," said Tony Bell, spokesman for Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich.

Video visitation will be established for high-risk inmates who require escorting to and from visiting areas and monitoring during the visitation at secure and public visiting areas at Men's Central Jail, Century Regional Detention Facility, North County Correctional Facility, Twin Towers and San Dimas Sheriff's Station, according to information released by Antonovich's office.

The first stage of the video arraignment program will primarily include inmates who are severely medically challenged, occupy the most costly beds in the jail system and are more challenging to transport to and from court. This pilot program will be available at the Twin Towers and in Department 30 of the Criminal Courts Building in Downtown.

"The pilot's goal is to arraign those inmates that cannot get to court because of medical issues. Instead of waiting for them to recover from whatever medical issues they may have, we would like to arraign them earlier in the process," said Chief Richard Barrantes of the Sheriff's Department Court Services Division. "Because our system is so large, we're talking about, sometimes, 20 to 30 (inmates) a day that we can get arraigned and therefore get them out of the jail system should they (be eligible to) be released at the arraignment stage."

Barrantes said studies show one-third of all arrested are released at the arraignment phase.

The second stage will include other high-volume arraignment courtrooms and additional jail facilities that might include Compton Court, Central Jail Arraignment Court and the newly constructed LAPD Metro Jail Facility. The Information Technology Fund has an allocation of $300,000 for the program, which will be matched by the Productivity Investment Fund for a total of $600,000 for the program, Barrantes said.

"The goal of the pilot is to evaluate the actual technology and concept and to determine cost savings," Barrantes said. "Once the pilot is completed, and we assess those issues, the plan is to deploy the concept countywide," meaning that Santa Clarita Valley would be included.

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