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Jail, court wired for video hearings
video court
Deputy Robert Brady and Liberty County Clerk of Courts Barry Wilkes watch LCSD Capt. Bruce Duncan Friday as law enforcement officers test a video system making it possible for prisoners to appear before a judge without leaving the jail. Brady and Wilkes were in the courthouse downtown while Duncan, assistant jail administrator, was at the jail on Airport Road. - photo by Phgoto by Patty Leon


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During a 24-hour period, law enforcement officers often make several trips driving inmates to court in downtown Hinesville, tying up manpower and heightening security concerns.
It’s not Court TV, but Liberty County officials plan to cut prisoner transportation by following a technology trend that’s catching on all over the country.
A video arraignment system would reduce the cost of transporting prisoners and speed up the “right to due process,” said Liberty County Clerk of Court Barry Wilkes.
“We’re doing it for many reasons. The biggest is security,” Wilkes said.
Prisoners are transported with the highest regard for security, but it is still a dangerous process.
“Right now the sheriff is transporting a tremendous amount of people from the jail,” Wilkes said. It costs a lot of money to transport back and forth.”
In a typical arraignment proceeding, the judge calls for the accused at a set time. In order to arraign a prisoner, officers have to put the prisoner in handcuffs and chains and drive him from the jail on Airport Road through traffic to courtrooms downtown.
With video arraignment technology, prisoners would be arraigned from the jail, Wilkes explained.
In December, the implementation plan was completed with hopes of starting up in January. The past few months have been used for training and testing.
“A lot of personnel are involved in the system and there are six different departments involved,” Wilkes said.
Officials have had to ensure access for everyone who normally would be present at a hearing, including sound and video for the accused, legal representation and judges.
“We had to rewire some of the sound equipment to make it function properly,” Wilkes said. “We have a two-part system. Our old sound system tied into the old video arraignment system.”
Sheriff Don Martin, Chief Deputy Keith Moran, Wilkes and judges became interested in the technology and started looking into it to reduce concerns about security and cost.
“We went out and found a local system in place at Chatham’s Recorders Court. We took a tour and watched how they processed inmates on first appearance procedure,” Wilkes said.
The county is paying $32,000 for its system, which will eventually include all courts. Without help from Chatham County, “it wouldn’t be happening, we couldn’t afford it,” Wilkes said, noting the cost would have been around $65,000. The county saved $30,000 by enlisting the help of Chatham County officials in designing and implementing the video arraignment system.
“Through their assistance we were able to do this,” Wilkes said. “We’ve taken some strides to save taxpayers a lot of money over a period of time. The system will pay for itself in the first year.”
Law enforcement and court officials conducted a trial run of the system Friday, bringing the technology closer to reality for Liberty County. Officials said the system should be in use within two weeks. 
“The only issue we have is if we have technology failures... the weather or the telephone is down. But we can’t help that,” Wilkes said. 
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