Jones County Jail brings in Internet court

This computer, complete with speakers and a web-camera, is now used within the Jones County Jail to allow inmates to appear in court without having to physically sit in the courtroom. The use of GoToMeeting allows a magistrate judge to meet with the accused from anywhere with Internet access. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     For the past couple of months, the Jones County Jail has been using technology to allow inmates to appear in court without having to physically sit in the courtroom.

     GoToMeeting is a web-based program that allows users to conduct online meetings and video conferencing.

     Jones County Sheriff Greg Graver said essentially the driving force behind implementing the technology was the loss of a magistrate judge.

     This summer, the State of Iowa cut the Judicial Department’s budget. For the Sixth Judicial District, which includes Jones County, this meant a cut from two to one full-time magistrate judge. With one magistrate judge for the whole district, Kristofer Lyons, that can be a lot of work.

     GoToMeeting allows Lyons to conduct initial appearances with inmates from any location, as long as Lyons has Internet access.

     “I think the use of technology such as this is a great benefit to the system,” applauded Lyons. He said Linn County has been using a closed circuit television system for some time, connecting the jail to the courthouse.

     Predominately, Graver said the system is used for magistrate court appearances more than anything. With the jail on the third floor and court proceedings held on the second floor, GoToMeeting cuts down on the time and manpower to bring inmates through the courthouse.

     “It’s almost like FaceTime,” Graver explained of the Apple app that allows users to video conference from device to device. “But it’s more secure.”

     The judge and the inmate can view one another and ask questions back and forth as well.

     The computer is set up on a cart with speakers and a camera that is wheeled into a private room within the jail where the inmate and one of the jailers are present for the hearing.

     “It can be wheeled wherever it needs to go,” said Graver. “It’s an all-in-one system.”

     With Wi-Fi already setup inside the jail, there was no installation costs involved. Graver said it cost roughly $1,800 to invest in the technology/software, which came out of his general budget.

     “The cost was not a major factor,” Graver said as to whether to implement the technology or not. It was more about requiring less jail staff and less transporting of the inmates.

     He said more and more county jails are adding this type of technology to their systems.

     “It’s convenient for the judges,” added Graver, “and less of a security risk for the public.” He said when transporting the inmates from floor to floor, you’re bringing them from a secure location (the third-floor jail) to an unsecured location (the second floor).

     “It takes less manpower to move inmates in a less-controlled environment,” Graver said. “It’s a big security advantage.”

     Lyons agreed.

     “It streamlines the time it takes to do an initial appearance,” he said. The judge no longer has to wait for the jail staff to bring an inmate to court and take them back to the jail.

     “That takes two members of the jail staff,” explained Lyons, “and can be tedious and time-consuming.

     “The new efficiencies are saving the county jail staff time, as well as anyone that is in custody and accused of a crime.”

     When someone is arrested, no matter the time of day, they have to be seen by a judge within 24 hours for the initial appearance. GoToMeeting allows for quicker appearances in this case.

     Jail Administrator Mike Elkin said there are really no downsides to the program.

     “It’s a great improvement,” he said of the jail.

     Lyons said while some might prefer to see a judge in person and meet face-to-face, most just want their case to be processed sooner rather than later. In some cases, he will ask an inmate to appear in person.

     “This is a positive change for Jones County,” he said. “It allows us to better serve the public in a more efficient manner.”


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