Most Wanted: Using technology in the pursuit of justice

Tuesday, May 15 2012

Granting prisoners all the rights afforded by the constitution while ensuring safety and security at all points can be a delicate balance. In this quest, some local prisons and courts have been turning to video conferencing as a way to walk this line.

Preventing escape attempts

One example of this approach can be found in the Bartholomew County Courthouse in Columbus, Indiana. After several inmates from a local detention center attempted to escape as they were being transported to the courthouse for arraignments, officials proposed holding some hearings using internet conferencing, according to The Republic.

In addition to the prevention of escape attempts, using the technology in this way can also save on transportation costs and increase the safety of those in the courtroom, the news source stated.

Connecting a vast network

A similar sentiment led Michigan's state correctional facilities to adopt video conferencing, according to Michigan.gov. With more than 45,000 prisoners and spread across almost 60,000 square miles, the implemented system proved a less dangerous and more efficient way to provide legal and medical services, the news source stated.

"We started with telemedicine, and then the parole board started doing video conferencing for their hearings so the parole board members wouldn't have to drive to and from correctional facilities," Lynette Holloway, a member of Michigan's Department of Corrections' Bureau of Fiscal Management told Government Technology.

The potential benefits don't stop there, however.

Expanding the reach

After its initial success, the MDOC decided to use web conferencing in another capacity. Hoping to help transition inmates about to be released back into society, the organization began utilizing the technology as a safe and convenient way to connect the prisoners with an "in-reach team" of counselors, according to the news source.

By continuing to experiment, the MDOC has found many ways of employing the communication technology including immigration hearings, parental rights hearings and misconduct hearings, the news source stated.

With delicate (and potentially dangerous) situations such as prison and court systems, many groups have begun to see the advantages of web conferencing. Whether it is reducing risk to state workers or the public, decreasing transportation costs or conducting necessary meetings with minimal hassle, the technology can be an integral part of administering a complex arrangement.