The Buzz: Installation Spotlight: Limestone County courthouse, Alabama
Aug 4, 2009 12:00 PM, By Jessaca Gutierrez
Video Court Hearings
The other part of making this workflow more efficient was purchasing a new server for the new Cabinet NG CNG-SAFE software. Limestone County was already using an older version of Cabinet NG’s document-management software, but it upgraded when the company introduced the latest version with web-based capabilities. It also purchased Topaz Systems signature pads to digitally collect the defendant’s signature at the close of the hearing as proof of the defendant’s understanding of his or her arrest conditions. The judges sign off on the forms digitally using a PIN that they enter into the system. All this information is housed within the CNG-SAFE system, which tracks and stores information for all the county’s case files.
Within six months of using the new system, judges are able to conduct 10 initial appearance hearings in 25 minutes to 30 minutes, with an average of 45 hearings per a week. Freeman predicts that number will get even better with time and experience. The system has not only freed up the judges’ time so that they can focus on other cases, but it has also relieved the jail staff of the burden of transporting the inmates for these hearings. The county plans to conduct an in-depth ROI assessment after a year to determine possibly expanding the system.
“When you’re government, it’s really kind of different than business. You don’t see ROI the same,” Freeman says. “We’re not necessarily looking for profit, but I always say, ‘We’re saving money so we can reallocate it for another service,’ and in this case, it’s to be able to use that money to expand this project into other aspects.”
Expansion would include using the system for the county’s juvenile hearings, which would provide a significant time, energy, and cost savings because the juvenile housing facility is 55 miles away. In phase two of the project, the county plans to add more videophonesand upgrade to a telepresence-based system if the county can afford itto provide a public and private viewing area that would allow other people such as attorneys to be part of the hearings. Freeman is also working with the Alabama Supreme Court to set statutes and regulations that would allow the hearing proceedings to be recorded and stored with the Cabinet NG system.
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