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Orange County Focus

Countywide : Supervisors Approve Video Arraignments

September 29, 1993|GEOFF BOUCHER and KEVIN JOHNSON

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a program that officials said will save money and ease jail overcrowding by linking some of the county's courtrooms to the Central Men's Jail via video technology.

The program, which also made its performance debut Tuesday morning by handling seven arraignments, will use $120,000 worth of video cameras and monitors to cut down on prisoner transportation to the county's five courthouses, officials said.

Supervisor Roger R. Stanton said the new system would almost certainly reduce the enormous annual costs of shuttling inmates from jail to court.

The Sheriff's Department pays up to $8 million each year to haul inmates to various points in the county, with a substantial amount going to fund the transfer of inmates to and from daily court appearances.

Besides such costs as fuel, bus maintenance and labor, daily busing creates various security worries, said Ron Coley, county administrative manger for criminal justice matters. County records show that 60% of all maximum-security escapes occur during prisoner transfers.

With the new program, instead of being shackled, boarding a bus and spending long hours in transit and waiting in courthouse holding cells, the prisoners will only be walked to a jailhouse studio.

In the studio, the inmates see a monitor with the judge's image, as two versions of their own image--a close-up and a mid-range picture--are transmitted to monitors visible to everyone in the courtroom. A facsimile machine is also on hand to assist with document exchange between the two sites.

The one-year pilot program approved by supervisors Tuesday will link the jail to Municipal Court in Santa Ana to hear misdemeanor arraignments. The court typically handles 50 to 80 arraignments a day, Court Executive Officer Robert B. Kuhel said.

In many misdemeanor cases, inmates may be allowed to go free after their initial court appearance. But, because they must be returned and processed at the jail, that release may be delayed hours, keeping them in an overcrowded system longer than necessary.

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