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Court proceedings make video debut
August 19, 2010 Jerry Purvis   

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On Monday, the video link between the Scotts Bluff County Detention Facility and the county courthouse went live with positive results.
The detention facility, opened in November 2007, was built with the capability of using video conferencing to handle basic court proceedings like preliminary hearings and arraignments.
“The system allows us to not have to transport inmates from the jail to the courthouse for initial arraignment proceedings,” said Chance Florke, information systems director for the county. “The first arraignment went very well.”
He added the video system can only be successful if all parties involved support its use – from judges to prosecuting and defense attorneys to corrections officers. Everyone has to be confident the system will work.
In addition to the wiring in both buildings and the video link connecting them, each courtroom is equipped with video monitors for both attorneys and the judge. A big screen video monitor is installed on the wall to accommodate the gallery and jury members.
“We’re not interrupting the court proceedings or shortening the process of how the courts work,” Florke said. “We’re simply not transporting the inmates and having that risk and liability of having them outside the jail.”
County Commission Chairman Mark Masterton agreed that video proceedings would save the county a number of expenses, from transportation to security while inmates are in the courthouse.
Florke said arraignments are the only proceedings done by video conference so far. However, as they improve how the system works, they plan to expand into other areas such as witness testimony.
Another service video conferencing could offer is sign language interpretation. Courts require a certified American Sign Language interpreter when necessary, but the closest one is in Lincoln. That service has already been offered and is effective for video.
Florke said the jail was constructed with the idea to conduct video proceedings with the courts. “Unfortunately, we were ahead of the state of Nebraska because they hadn’t defined how we were going to conduct those proceedings. We had to wait until they developed guidelines.”
Also during the commissioners meeting, Florke opened five proposals the county received for an inmate phone system. The secure, specialized system allows inmates to make calls out of the detention center. The county’s contract with its current provider has expired, and Florke asked to request proposals from competitors.
Fees to use the phone are charged to each individual inmate. The county and the provider then share the revenue. The county could potentially double its revenue to about $80,000 a year with a new provider.
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