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Armstrong to use video to cover arraignments

| Friday, Dec. 30, 2005

Soon, prisoners at the Armstrong County Jail may be in a real-life episode of "Law & Order."

Armstrong County President Judge Joseph A. Nickleach said funding has been approved in the 2006 budget for the county to use video conferencing technology for certain court proceedings, a measure expected to save the county thousands in prisoner transport costs.

"We're working toward getting that equipment here," Nickleach said.

The video conferencing equipment can be used for arraignments, and plans are in place to try to get the system in each of the county's four district court offices.

"We are going to put video conferencing in our magistrate offices," said Armstrong County Commissioner Rich Fink. "We do plan on (putting in the equipment) at the district judges' offices shortly."

With the equipment, the county would be able to cut costs for prisoner transports, especially for constables, who are forced to shuttle prisoners to a district courts for arraignments.

They could be taken straight to Armstrong County Jail and arraigned there, saving fuel costs and time, he said.

Nickleach said the state Supreme Court has approved use of such equipment for arraignments only, but even cutting down on transports for those would save money and time.

Each month, the Armstrong County Sheriff's Department must go to the jail and collect prisoners who are due in court for formal arraignments, which is a simple recitation of a defendant's rights.

"You want to minimumize the inconveniece to everybody," Nickleach said. "It think it could (do that) and I think it will."

The tool would be especially useful for prisoners who need to have formal arraignments but are housed in state prisons in distant places, such as Camp Hill near Harrisburg.

It won't stop those prisoners who work the system by changing their minds at the last second about a plea or a trial, the judge said, but it should still cut costs in the long run.

"Some of them do play the system and it's frustrating sometimes," he said..

Using the equipment should save a large amount of money over time, Nickleach said, as there will never be a shortage of prisoners who need to use it.

"That's a fact of life," he said. "When the space is there (at the jail), the judge is going to fill it."

Fink said the equipment could be in place later this year, adding that the county still had to find the right equipment and network infrastructure to make sure it doesn't need replaced right away as technology improves. Nickleach said he hopes it is in use by the summer.

"We try to keep up with (technology)," Nickleach said. "It's always a work in progress."

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