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Video teleconferencing: Can it prevent need for jail expansion?

By Carolyn Kahant for TaxpayersWatch



Kerr County is looking at video teleconferencing as a way to speed up the processing of detainees through the District Court system and alleviate potential overcrowding at the County Jail.


The possibility of applying for a grant to pay for this technology was discussed by John Trolinger, head of Information Technology for Kerr County, at Commissioners Court on June 27.


Trolinger reported that Judge Pat Tinley asked him in February to look into the viability of installing video teleconferencing between the District and County Courts and the county jail. He found it was possible, and would include Gillespie and possibly three other counties as well.


According to Trolinger, "This means that district attorneys, judges, inmates, attorneys, and lawyers that represent inmates can use teleconferencing in place of traveling or being exposed to an inmate that's incarcerated." He said he saw a "huge savings" in reducing the traveling of judges, prosecutors, and attorneys. He added that in talking to Brady, and McCulloch County Information Technology, he thinks it's "doable" to put in video teleconferencing there, which would connect with Kerr County.


After hearing about the savings in travel time, Commissioner #4 Dave Nicholson asked, "Could this also have the potential to speed up the process to where we get people who are in jail disposed of more quickly and give some relief on crowded conditions?"


Trolinger replied in the affirmative, explaining that grant applications he reviewed from Cochran and Hockley Counties stated in the first paragraph, "We propose to install video teleconferencing in six courtrooms and provide inmates ability to receive their statutorily-mandated magistrate's warning as early in their incarceration as possible."


In answer to a question from Commissioner #1 Buster Baldwin about including both the 216th and 198th Districts in the teleconferencing, Trolinger said, "Long term, it would be best to do all eight counties. But there are limitations today, with (who has) the bandwidth, the Internet connections."


According to Trolinger, the most promising grant is for one year, which would cover the $72,000 to $84,000 cost of the equipment for all eight counties (if that were possible). It breaks down to about $8,000 per unit and Kerr County would need only three units, one for each district courtroom and one at the jail. Each unit contains the TV, the camera and the microphone. It is about the size of a breadbox and can be picked up in one hand.


"And it's portable", Trolinger said, "so if for some reason the Commissioners Court should need it, we could plug it in right here."


In answer to Nicholson wanting to know specifically if this system could free up some beds in county jail, Judge Pat Tinley said, "I see that it could, yes. Now the degree to which that might happen, I don't know. The Legislature is more and more authorizing the use of video teleconferencing for summary-type procedures, for arraignments, for magistration. Hopefully it can be done for pleas. It can be done in civil cases for default judgments, for uncontested-type cases where judges won't be having to spend time on the road. The whole thing is to enhance the efficiency of the judicial function."


After some discussion of how to get all the counties involved in getting the necessary equipment, Nicholson offered an idea. "I'm wondering if this equipment's not the property of the two District Judges," he said, "and they take it out to Kendall County, set it down and say, 'Here's our equipment that we're going to be using,' instead of each county owning equipment."


Trolinger thought that was a good idea.  All agreed that he should bring a request to apply for the grant to the next meeting.


It looks like the creative ideas that might replace the need for a jail expansion are flowing. Kudos to all involved in this process.




TaxpayersWatch for Kerr County
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