Going high tech in Alberta courts

Not only does virtual technology enhance communication, it canalso be used to boost safety and security – at least that’s theplan for Alberta’s justice system.

And increasing efficiency and security are the main goals withthe recent introduction of videoconferencing in Alberta courtrooms andbeyond.

The videoconferencing system is the result of a 2004 pilotproject and will be completely implemented by next April in 75locations across the province. Locations include court houses,young offender’s centres, and all correctional facilities,according to Mark Cooper, director of communications, AlbertaJustice and Attorney General.

“In 2004 it was determined that videoconferencing and theavailable technology would make the court system a lot moreefficient,” said Cooper.

Included in the system are video-cameras and television screensused to provide two-way communication in the courtrooms. Aflat-panel display on the judge’s bench shows the prisoner at thecorrectional facility and a wall mounted plasma televisiondepicting the prisoner to the court gallery and lawyers.

The total cost for purchasing and installing the equipment is$2.1 million, according to Cooper.

The system equipment was deployed by Edmonton-based Acrodex, and the broadband is powered by Alberta SuperNet.

It will also reduce the travel time of those who have to comelong distances from correctional facilities in Edmonton or Calgary,said Cooper.

“In some situations it could take five hours of travel to make acourt appearance in Fort McMurray for something as simple assetting a trial date which literally takes a minute or two tocomplete,” he said.

In addition to saving time, it may also save resources, as itwould eliminate readying inmates for transport to the courthousesand the security personnel that requires, according to Cooper.

“What they’ve been anticipating is the people that wouldnormally (secure transfers) can be redeployed to do other things,”he said. “It could also mean reduced safety risks for both staffand the general public.”

The times in which safety is at risk the most in the justicesystem is when prisoners are being transported, both for the publicsafety aspect in terms of higher risk of escaping or altercations,he said.

The efficiency this technology offers isn’t lost on the judgesthemselves.

Justice Minster Ron Stevens said: “Increasing efficiency andsafety in this way is the reason we expanded the project to theseadditional locations.”

Cooper noted that while this is primarily being used fortraditional court appearances (i.e. bail hearings, setting traildates); it is also something that could potentially benefit victimsand witnesses.

“We see a role for this especially when we’re considering familylaw cases, where children are involved,” he said. “It’s verydifficult for some children to have to come into court and testify,so we can put them in a place where they feel safer, we see that asa way that videoconferencing can be used.”

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