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GCN : March 2014
for it, because they weren't the ones who would see the savings," said Michael Swayze, judicial information systems manager for the State Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court had some technology money available, and under pressure from the Corrections Depart- ment and the State Police, "we decided we would start putting video in," Swayze said. "Our motivation was to save the Cor- rections Department and the State Police money." THE BACKSTORY The program began in 2009 with the in- stallation of equipment from Polycom in 12 courtrooms. "We didn't want to jump in with both feet until we knew that it was going to be used and we would get a payback," he said. The first installation was in a small branch district courtroom in a commu- nity with low bandwidth. When it was turned on, "I got a crystal clear HD con- nection," Swayze said. "It was like look- ing through a window into the court- room. I knew then that this was going to work." When the program started, just 2 per- cent of hearings that involved a prisoner in another jurisdiction were being done by video. By the end of 2013 some 300 courtrooms out of about 900 statewide had been equipped for video --- at least one courtroom in each county --- and the volume of video hearings had increased to 27 percent of those that would other- wise involve transporting prisoners, sav- ing the Corrections Department alone more than $1 million a year. "The systems are almost paying for themselves as soon as we put them in," Swayze said. "There are all kinds of sav- ings for the local funding units [the local courts] as well." The costs of guarding and transporting prisoners between fa- cilities within a county also have been re- duced if the prisoner can appear instead by video. In addition to cutting the costs of handling prisoners, expert witnesses including State Police toxicologists also can testify remotely, cutting their trans- portation costs and increasing produc- tivity. The Supreme Court settled on Poly- com's RealPresence Platform for court- room video in part because of its famil- iarity in the state. The State Police and Corrections Department had already standardized on the technology. Cor- rections was using video to help deliver health care to the system's 49,000 pris- oners, so it was a known commodity. "We weren't going with any other brand," Swayze said. "These things had to be absolutely reliable," or the judges would be reluctant to accept and use the systems in their courtrooms. TECH COSTS FALLING The courtrooms typically are equipped with two high-definition display screens, a high-definition camera, microphones and speakers. "These aren't expensive," said Russ Colbert, director of Polycom's government markets. "The trend on all of this technology is downward in price." Once the initial 12 installations had proved themselves, Swayze began ex- panding the system in 2010 in the state's remote Upper Peninsula, which had the least dense population, the longest dis- tances to travel and offered the greatest potential savings. Initially one system was installed in each county, put where it was hoped it would do the most good. "Which judge is most likely to use it and share it?" was the criteria, Swayze said. In 2011 the program began expanding southward, with a goal of outfitting at least one courtroom for each of the differ- ent courts in each county --- circuit, dis- trict and probate courts. The goal even- tually is to have a video system in every courtroom in the state. The systems now are being installed at a rate of about 100 a year, and only a few of the busiest coun- ties have been completely equipped. But every county now has at least one system, and Swayze said he is happy with the 27 percent rate of remote hearings, although he said there still is room for expansion. Very few of the judges are reluctant to use the video systems, and "I think we can probably do 60 percent," he said. But complete coverage of all courts still is some years away. In the meantime there still are nontechnical issues that will have to be worked out for video in the court- room. "Technology is leading procedure," Swayze said. • GCN MARCH 2014 • GCN.COM 31 In addition to cutting the costs of handling prisoners, expert witnesses can testify remotely, reducing transportation costs and increasing productivity. AP IMAGES