Video arraignments plunge state prisons into technology age

From Staff Reports

   The Tennessee Department of Correction and Davidson County Criminal Court in Nashville successfully conducted the first video arraignment of a TDOC inmate Wednesday.
   Antonio Jones, who is located at the Lois M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility in West Nashville, was arraigned at 10:30 a.m. before Judge Seth Norman in Division IV Criminal Court in Nashville.
   Northeast Correctional Complex in Mountain City, Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville, the Tennessee Correction Academy in Tullahoma and TDOC's Central Office in Nashville all have video capability.
   The Department of Correction hopes to use the technology for videoconference meetings, long-distance training and telemedicine. In some cases, health officials at one site may consult with colleagues at another site and an inmate may be screened or receive follow-up recommendations without making a cross-state trip.
   The first hookup was conducted last June when the commissioner's staff discussed issues with the warden at Northeast Correctional Complex.
   Correction Commissioner Donal Campbell said the video pilot project will save money and eliminate the chance of an inmate escaping during transportation to arraignment proceedings.
   "This technology will benefit taxpayers, as the expense of transporting inmates to court is eliminated in many cases. From the department's standpoint, improved safety and security is achieved by not transporting inmates, and that is the department's primary responsibility to the public," Campbell said.
   The technology may be expanded to include other court proceedings involving inmates if approved by the court. The pilot project includes expanding the technology to West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning and to Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex-Morgan County Regional Site.
   Equipment in the Division IV Courtroom was purchased with federal grant money. The equipment already has been used to conduct proceedings between the court and the Drug Court Residential Treatment Facility in Nashville, according to Trial Court Administrator Larry Stephenson.
   "Division IV is the only courtroom we have currently equipped with this technology, so Judge Norman has agreed to hear these arraignments for all of his colleagues until we have a routine worked out," Stephenson said.