Video conferencing offers savings, security

The wonders of technology are bringing cost savings and additional security to the Lincoln County Jail and court system through video conferencing. Jail inmates can now attend court appearances without ever leaving the jail, and inmates housed outside the county can make their court appearances without being transported to Merrill.

Sheriff Jeff Jaeger said the savings are already adding up, as the cost of transporting prisoners can be considerable.

“It’s very rare that we aren’t running prisoners somewhere,” Jeager said. “There is a significant cost to transporting inmates.”

The sheriff’s department is responsible to transport inmates housed elsewhere to court appearances in Lincoln County. Video conferencing saves $500 to $700 for the typical transport trip, Jaeger said. Lincoln County’s video conferencing equipment can be connected via the Internet to equipment in other counties or state prisons. The court appearance can take place without having to transport the inmate.

Lincoln County has already done long-distance video conferencing with Dodge Correctional, Kettle Moraine, Racine Correctional and Vilas County.

In the first three months of its implementation, the video conferencing system was used four times for out-of-county appearances, saving the county more than $2,200 in officer wages, mileage and meals.

Not only does video conferencing save money when transporting from other jurisdictions but will continually save on the costs of transporting Lincoln County Jail inmates to in-county appearances. Video conferencing is now being used for routine intake appearances, the first court appearance after an inmate has been arrested at which bond is set. Nearly every day, the sheriff’s department would have to transport prisoners – often several in one day – to the courthouse for intake appearances. Court transports can tie up one to three officers in a day.

Video conferencing appearances are handled by the jail staff, freeing up patrol deputies for other duties.

In the first two weeks of using video conferencing, Jaeger said the sheriff’s department saved $2,500 in officer costs.

“Annually we should save $25,000 in officer costs,” he said. “It will be a big money saver and keep the officers on patrol where they should be.”

Video conferencing is appropriate for most intake appearances, and can be used for other appearances if the inmate, the attorneys and the judge agree to it. The defendant still has the right to an in-person appearance if they choose.

The new Lincoln County Jail was designed with a video conferencing room where the inmate and defense attorney can view the judge on a 52-inch monitor. The judge is connected with a similar system. The defense attorney can choose to be with the inmate at the jail or in a separate room.

Before purchasing a system, the county researched what other facilities were using.

“There was a lot of good thought that went into this,” Jaeger said. “The county made a nice purchase of some state-of-the-art equipment.”

The equipment should pay for itself in short order, Jaeger noted.

“It’s certainly not going to take long to recoup those upfront costs,” he said.

Along with saving money, the other benefit of video conferencing is the added security is offers. With the inmates never leaving the jail, there is no risk of an escape attempt, or the inmate coming in contact with someone who wishes to harm them.

The video conferencing system is also used for probation revocation hearings.

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