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New video conferences bring inmates to judge

Susan Cunningham

By mid-January, most inmates at Routt County Jail won’t need to pile into a van to be driven to the courthouse to hear the charges against them and what their bond will be.

Instead, they’ll be taken into a special cell room at the jail to appear before Routt County Judge James Garrecht through a video-conference system.

The system, which the county purchased late this year for $24,000, will save the time and money that is spent each week ferrying a half-dozen or so inmates from jail to court for their preliminary advisements.

Garrecht said that although it isn’t more efficient for the courts to use the system, the fact that it can save taxpayer dollars and relieve the sheriff’s office of staffing problems make it something the court is willing to try.

The system requires that a camera and video screen be set up in both the courtroom and the special cell. The inmate will leave the cell box and enter the camera cell, where he or she will talk with the judge. Attorneys can be present at the courtroom or the jail.

“So I’ll be able to talk to them and see who I’m talking with, and they’ll be able to talk with me, as well,” Garrecht said.

The system would be used for preliminary advisements, which typically take place the day after a person is arrested and give the judge the chance to tell the person why the arrest was made and what the person is being charged with, and to set bond and issue restraining orders.

A similar system was tried in the late 1990s, Garrecht said, but didn’t work because of the poor technology.

The video looked like a 1920s cartoon where movements were very slow, he said, and a sound delay made it impossible to carry on a conversation. Plus, there was always the possibility of technical glitches.

For instance, during video advisements in the past, Garrecht would be in the middle of talking to an inmate and the video would go out, or the audio would stop working.

“Next thing you know, we’re putzing around,” trying to get the technical glitch solved, he said. “Then we give up and they end up trying to bring the people over anyway.”

Although the court probably prefers seeing people face to face, Garrecht said he was willing to try the system.

It also could link counties, making it possible for Garrecht to give a face-to-face advisement to a person in Moffat or Grand counties.

Even when Routt County’s new justice center is built, and county and district courtrooms move closer to the county jail, the video conference could be used instead of walking inmates over to the courtroom.

— To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com


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