The chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was invited this week
to serve as part of an eight-person workgroup tasked with developing best practices and guidelines for the use of videoconferencing technology in state and local court systems.
Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille was expected to be in the nation’s capital Monday during the first gathering of the workgroup, which was formed by the National Institute of Justice, according to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
The workgroup, which consists of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, jail administrators, court administrators and court technology staff from across the nation, intends to review Pennsylvania’s experience with videoconferencing to develop protocols in state and local courts for post-arraignment release hearings to maximize the return on investment in videoconferencing and reduce jail detention or overcrowding, according to the AOPC.
Castille said that Pennsylvania’s judiciary is recognized the country over as a leader in the use of videoconferencing technology.
“Since 2008, our courts have been applying this technology, most importantly to enhance security by reducing the risk of defendant escape or assault on transport officers, judges and persons in the courtroom, and as a secondary benefit to significantly cut costs associated with transporting prisoners,” Castille said in a statement.
Pennsylvania’s courts reportedly conduct about 15,000 proceedings via videoconferencing each month.
About 62 percent of the proceedings are arraignments, while other matters include warrant proceedings and bail and sentencing hearings.
Videoconferencing has been conducted with defendants in state prisons, local jails, booking centers and Pennsylvania State Police barracks, according to the AOPC.
The practice, the AOPC stated, saves the commonwealth about $21 million each year in prisoner transportation costs by eliminating an estimated $73 required to take a criminal defendant from a local jail and an estimated $588 to transport a prisoner from a state correctional institution.
Castille has said that the return on investment in videoconferencing technology is significant.
In 2008, the AOPC announced, about half of the Common Pleas Courts in the state had videoconferencing technology.
Between 2008 and 2010, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court used $4.2 million in state budget appropriations to install 488 videoconferencing units in trial courts and magisterial district courts that had not yet implemented the technology.
Those units, the AOPC stated, accounted for $9 million out of $21 million in estimated annual savings.
The workgroup with which Chief Justice Castille is participating is jointly supported by the National Institute of Justice’s Office of Research and Evaluation and Office of Science and Technology within the United States Justice Department.