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Thursday, September 21, 2023
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County receives video arraignment grant

Tech will save time and money while improving safety

By Jeremy D. Wells

Carter County Times

While the COVID-19 pandemic caused a lot of upheaval and turmoil, some of the changes that the illness forced upon us have proven to be useful and beneficial even as life returns to normal.

One of these beneficial changes, the normalization of teleconferencing, has creeped into areas beyond the boardroom.

City councils and fiscal courts who grew accustomed to meeting via Zoom or Skype now conference in remote members when necessary, or schedule special sessions that are still open to the public and media without anyone needing to come into the courthouse.

The criminal court system, though, may be where the technology is poised to make its greatest impact.

Carter County Jailer R.W. Boggs and staff noted they were already using laptops and teleconferencing apps to allow defendants to participate in hearings without leaving the detention center during the pandemic, and have continued to do so as restrictions wind down.

But a recent grant secured through the jail will allow them to add some dedicated equipment for participation in arraignments from the jail.

The jail arraignment equipment grant resolution approved by the Carter County Fiscal Court authorized Boggs to apply for state funding available through the passage of HB1 to cover the cost of new equipment for teleconferencing between the jail and the courthouse.

Boggs described the system for connecting to the courts as “a souped up Zoom” with better security, and said in addition to this teleconferencing system, the grant provides them with “kiosks and a roll around (unit).”

Boggs said if they didn’t take advantage of the money the state is offering now, they might find themselves footing the bill for it down the road.

“It appears the state will eventually mandate video arraignment,” Boggs said. “This grant allows Carter County to be ready for it without cost to the taxpayers. I’m very happy we were able to secure the funding without a cost to taxpayers.”

He said there were a number of benefits involved in using teleconferencing, as there were always risks and costs associated with transporting inmates even a short distance.

“In a jail, the less moving parts you have, the safer it is for everyone,” Boggs said.

He said the technology meant they wouldn’t have to have as many inmate transports.

The fewer inmate transports they had, he said, “(the) safer it is on my deputies, the sheriff’s deputies, and the inmates.”

County attorney Brian Bayes agreed that securing the grant was a smart move, safety wise and financially – and not just because of the money saved on equipment.

“The benefits for the county are it’s a cost saver, as far as the number of bailiffs that have to be used, because they have to transport,” Bayes said.

“It’s a safety factor for the community, where – God forbid – during transport there’s any type of an accident or escape. It allows the court system to run efficiently and faster, to be honest with you. And it’s pretty standard in most counties already,” Bayes continued.

“It’s always been an issue with the technology,” Bayes added. It has to be fast, reliable, and secure. But, he said, between the company handling it, the jail, and the grant funds available, he’s confident they “can get everything straightened out.”

He said they’ve found that teleconferencing is “very effective and probably will pay for itself well over time.”

He noted the technology also frees up resources for other tasks, and not just at the jail.

“It helps the sheriff’s department where they can use their bailiffs in other situations, or placements,” Bayes said. “It helps with the jail as far as getting inmates ready for transport. It helps the court system because it’s very efficient and speeds cases along.”

Technology has already been helping attorneys since the pandemic, Bayes said.

“Zoom court, allowing attorneys to attend via Zoom, has been a cost saver all the way around,” he said.

Not only for county attorneys, but private attorneys, who might otherwise need to drive 45 minutes to an hour or more for a hearing. It’s not only a time saver, but a cost saver for them and their clients, he said.

“I think it helps,” he said. “It’s all about efficiency. It helps things run smoothly, and faster, because our caseload just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

Boggs agreed, and went a step further, noting he thinks that videoconferencing will become so common that it may lead to changes in the way staff are assigned.

“The technology… allows for a more efficient court flow, and greater ability for expedited hearings,” Boggs said. “Eventually I believe a sheriff’s bailiff will be located in the jail, due to the constitutional court duties of the sheriff’s department and expanded video court.”

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com



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