County to upgrade jail’s video court system

GREENFIELD — A new video court system will eliminate the need to transport some inmates to and from the county courthouse or state correction facilities, saving time, manpower and money, officials said.

The $15,500 purchase will replace and upgrade a closed-circuit video court system that was installed in the jail about 10 years ago and will be used for the initial hearings and court appearances of low-level offenders, said Capt. Andy Craig, the county’s jail commander.

A video monitor in the jail facility connects to a matching monitor in Hancock County Superior Court 2 in the courthouse. Inmates facing traffic infractions, misdemeanors and low-level felonies would appear before Judge Dan Marshall without having to leave the jail, Craig said.

The old system fell into disrepair months ago and was too outdated to fix, officials said. For the past few months, jailers have been walking large groups of offenders from the jail to the courthouse each morning for initial hearings or court appearances. That walk across the street might seem simple, but moving inmates always carries a risk and taxes manpower in a jail that is already understaffed, Craig said.

“With it being broken, we could be taking 12 people over (to the courthouse) each morning,” Craig said. “Then we’d have (a jail officer) tied up over there for an hour or two. So, we miss our video system.”

Now, the Hancock County Board of Commissioners has approved buying a new video court system, said Maj. Brad Burkhart, the sheriff’s department’s chief deputy.

The system will cost about $15,500 in the first year, which includes installation, licensing and operating fees. Once it’s up and running, the system should cost about $1,900 a year to operate, Burkhart said.

The new system comes with a few bells and whistles that officials say should cut costs over time.

It allows for monitors to be placed in each courtroom, Craig said, which will give jailers the option to use the video court system for cases at every level, especially with inmates known for causing issues during transport.

The system also will link to the video court system used by the state’s Department of Correction, Burkhart said. Inmates serving time in prison could utilize the video system to make court appearances after their sentencing or to testify in some trials, he said.

Currently, a jail officer has to drive to the facility where the inmate has been assigned, pick the person up and drive the prisoner back to Hancock County, Burkhart said. The upgrade would reduce the need for those transports and will save money spent for overtime and fuel.

“Every time we get a transport order from a judge, an officer would have to go get them and then take them back,” Burkhart said.

The seriousness of case and laws involved in the proceeding always will determine whether an inmate appears in court over the video system or in person, Burkhart said.

For example, prosecutors and attorneys filed a handful of transport orders throughout the course of a recent murder trial. They summoned at least five offenders, housed in facilities around the state, to Hancock County Superior Court 1 to testify.

Cases as high-profile as murder charges likely would always require in-person testimony, but ones involving lesser charges might involve the video system, Burkhart said.

The update in the video court system comes a few months after the county installed a video visitation system that requires inmates to chat with friends and loved ones over a computer system. That, too, eliminated the need to move inmates around the jail and have extra staffers on hand to monitor them.

County Commissioner Brad Armstrong said the board usually trusts jail officials when they request an update that will serve as safeguards for officers and inmates.

“We really rely on them to look out for (technology) that will make for a safer work environment,” Armstrong said.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.