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Webcams speed court hearings

In Pa., a judge videoconferences between courthouse and jailhouse, saving thousands and releasing inmates who post bond in hours instead of months.
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Written by ZDNet Editors, Contributors on

Local governments can save big bucks and save inmates months of needless incarceration by using videoconferencing for bond hearings. Pennsylvania's Allegheny County Common Pleas Court implemented such a system and has saved about $80,000, Pittsburg Post-Gazette.

Criminal Division Administrative Judge Donna Jo McDaniel estimated that on Wednesday, for example, the state-mandated program saved the county approximately $81,000 because 15 of 24 inmates she heard were released on bond. For them to be jailed at a cost of $60 per day and await bond hearings for months is a waste of time, money and resources, she said.

Jail Warden Ramon Rustin said transportation and labor costs for taking those inmates to hearings at the courthouse would be about $200.

Here's how it works: A bond officer stands before the webcam, with the inmate and the public defender off to one side. If the inmate has a private attorney, they can communicate via television from the courthouse. The judge and assistant district attorney assigned to the case can also watch and interact in the on-screen broadcast.

Defendants represented in jail by an assistant public defender also have a second representative in the courtroom, which Public Defender Michael J. Machen called a "win-win situation."

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