06/17/10 — Courthouse video system will cut prisoner movement

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Courthouse video system will cut prisoner movement

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 17, 2010 1:46 PM

An inmate recently attempted to overpower a bailiff who was escorting him from the Wayne County Jail to the courthouse. The bailiff was able to subdue the inmate, and no one was injured.

County officials hope incidents like that will become a thing of the past once a new video arraignment system goes online in the early fall, allowing court officials to handle an inmate's case without him or her leaving the jail.

It's not just a matter of safety, said Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones and County Manager Lee Smith, it is a matter of efficiency and cost as well.

The county has awarded a $96,995 contract to Technical Innovation of Morrisville to install the system in the jail and courthouse. It will operate similar to a video conference.

The system will allow judges, the clerk of court and Sheriff's Office staff to use video feeds without having to physically move inmates.

"I am really excited for several reasons," Jones said. "It is a quicker and better way to get people to court, and it will be safer. From a safety standpoint, people will not have to be in the hallways."

The money to pay for the project will come from court facilities revenues that the county receives from court fees.

"It is not costing sales taxes or ad valorum taxes. It is coming from those folks who pay off a citation or fee in the courts. I think it is a good opportunity," Smith said.

"We will begin installation after Sept. 1. We are delaying because we have that trial, Cesar Laurean. So I had rather not tinker around with cabling and those kinds of things. We are shooting for Sept. 1. If that trial is extended, we will move that forward, and we have let the contractor know that."

Smith was referring to the murder trial of former Marine Cesar Laurean, which is scheduled to begin Aug. 9. The trial, which has been moved to Wayne County from Onslow County because of pre-trial publicity, has attracted national attention and could last for several weeks.

Jones said he agrees it would be best to delay implementation.

"Another thing is as soon as it (video system) goes in, you need to do the training," Smith said. "We are not going to have the time, nor are the judges, the court system and the Sheriff's Office (before the trial)."

The movement of inmates takes time, which costs money, Smith said. There also is a "big safety issue" when inmates are moved to public areas, he said.

"The other thing is we are really trying to look to the future," he said. "We know that at some point in time we are going to have to relocate the jail or build a satellite (facility), whatever the board or boards in the future choose. We are going to have to add space.

"That will mean we probably will have an off-site jail because you just don't have the room downtown. What we have tried to do is to put in a system that can be upgraded. Kind of a plug and play that we could then have an off-site system because obviously the further you move out the higher your costs become in moving inmates and your security issues really go up."

Smith said local officials have looked at other counties, including New Hanover, that have installed the system. He said the Sheriff's Office, clerk of court and district attorney offices all support the system and that he is thankful for the judges being willing to consider the change.

"I think it is a good first step," Smith said. "I think all of the finance staff and the folks on the committee did a good job getting (the specifications outlined) and getting a good price. I am hoping they are active with it in October, November."

Some logistics remain to be worked out, he said.

"I think it will be a good thing, but it will change the way that we do business," Smith said. "I don't expect it will go smoothly and we are going to have to figure it out. I have meet with (Judge) Arnie (Jones) and (District Court Judge) David (Brantley) earlier this week. Delaying installation and implementation a little bit gives us an opportunity to work out standard operating procedures and protocol.

"The reason I think that is important, it is like when we built the animal control facility, we said if we did things the old way and move into a new facility all you have are new painted walls, nothing changed. So, what you have to look at is how do we do business, are we doing it the best that we can? Also look at your process and put your standard operating procedures in place and your protocol before you use the new technical items because if the protocols are not right, the equipment is not going to help you. You are still going to be stuck in the mud. (The delay) gives them time to do that."