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More technology, less court travel

Three counties, including Citrus, share one judge on the weekends for inmates' first appearances. Now those appearances can be via video.

By JONATHAN ABEL
Published July 28, 2006


BROOKSVILLE - Transporting inmates can be a dangerous proposition, but thanks to a new video link, officials will be doing a lot less of it in Hernando, Citrus and Sumter counties.

Right now, on any Saturday or Sunday, one judge is on duty for all three counties. If it's a Citrus judge, for example, prisoners from the other two counties are transported to Inverness for their first court appearance.

But starting Aug. 5, those appearances will all be done via video hookup.

"It worked wonderfully," said Judge Donald Scaglione, who tested the system last month. "It's better for the liability and security concerns, and it's more cost effective."

The video technology is nothing new. All three counties already do first appearances by video during the week. What's new is that one judge can now cover all three counties at once.

"It will entail not moving prisoners, and that's great - that's just great," said John Sullivan, court operations manager for the circuit in Citrus.

The law requires that people get a first appearance in court within 24 hours of their arrest. That can mean logistical trouble for the sheriffs' offices, which are charged with transporting prisoners.

"On a normal weekend, you will have anywhere from 10 to 20 inmates," said Capt. Marc Rivenbark of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office judicial services department.

The transport vans hold 11 prisoners, which means officials have to take two and sometimes three vans. The whole inmate-transport excursion can take as long as four hours, Rivenbark said.

With the video link system, the various sheriffs' offices stand to save thousands of dollars. The only thing that will have to be transported is the arrest paperwork, originals of which are still required by state law.

The personnel cost alone of transporting inmates to first appearances was $24,590 from May of last year through May of this year, Rivenbark said. He thinks the video link could cut transport costs in half initially.

And besides, leaving the inmates in the jail reduces a lot of the risks - escapes, car crashes and others - that the public faces when inmates are on the road.

"The No. 1 saving is not in dollars, but in safety," Rivenbark said.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or 352 754-6114.

[Last modified July 27, 2006, 23:16:34]


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