A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section


PA Courts Expand Use of Video Conferencing, Saving $21 Million Annually in Defendant Transportation Costs

HARRISBURG, PA, June 7, 2011—A survey released today by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reveals that a day in court for many individuals charged with a crime no longer means a trip to a courtroom. Instead, defendants often remain in a correctional facility or
booking center as judges increasingly use video conferencing technology to conduct preliminary arraignments and other court proceedings, saving taxpayers an estimated $21 million annually.

“The use of video conferencing enhances security by reducing the risk of defendant escape or assault on transport officers, judges and anyone in the courtroom; improves court efficiency; and saves tax dollars by reducing court costs associated with defendant transportation,” said Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille. The Supreme Court’s criminal procedural rules were amended in 2003 to allow videoconferencing in court procedures not involving a defendant’s constitutional rights to confront witnesses.

The survey, conducted by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts’ (AOPC) Office of Judicial Security, found that on average more than 15,700 proceedings are held via video conferencing each month, saving the state’s magisterial district and Common Pleas courts
an estimated $1.7 million monthly or a cumulative cost savings of more than $21 million annually. Philadelphia and Delaware counties reported the highest monthly savings of $550,000 and $271,000, respectively. Fifty-six of the state’s 60 judicial districts responded to
the survey (see attached results).

Of the total projected annual savings, 43 percent, or more than $9 million, is a direct result of the 488 video conferencing units installed by the AOPC over the last three years at a cost of $4.2 million from a budget appropriations item.

“Counties particularly are getting a great return on the investment of state tax dollars by saving tens of millions of dollars at the local level,” Chief Justice Castille said. The cost to transport defendants to and from Pennsylvania’s court is paid for by counties.

Of the more than 15,700 monthly court proceedings conducted via video conferencing, more than half, or 9,500, were preliminary arraignments. Others included warrant proceedings, bail and sentencing hearings. The court proceedings are conducted with defendants located in state correctional institutions, county and local prisons, booking centers, State Police barracks and other facilities such as juvenile detention centers, shelters and state hospitals. The survey found that on average it cost courts $73 to transport a defendant to and from a local facility and $588 to transport a defendant to and from a state correctional institution.

“Technology is changing the way courts do business, and court officials and judges use video technology when available and appropriate,” Chief Justice Castille said. “As video conferencing technology becomes more prevalent throughout the judicial system, we can expect
to save even more tax dollars through a further reduction of defendant transportation costs.”

Efforts to provide training, install hardware and promote the use of video conference technology began in 2008 as part of the Supreme Court’s comprehensive statewide effort to improve court security, which began in the early 2000s. Those efforts were a collaboration
between the legislative and executive branches of state government with the state judiciary and, in turn, with county commissioners, judges and staff within local police departments, jails, central booking centers, state police and state correctional institutions.

Steve Schell, Communications Coordinator
(717) 231-3331

The Criminal Justice Section Student Research Center will re-open on June 13, 2011. The hours of operation will be Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The SRC, located in Room 303 of the Criminal Justice Center (The Jack Meyer’s lawyer’s lounge), offers free case law research for court appointed and CJA counsel. The research is provided by law students from local area law schools. Attorneys wishing to request research assistance on a court appointed case can do so either by visiting the lawyer’s lounge directly and meeting with a law student in person or they may submit a research request online at http://www.philadelphiabar.org/page/CJResearch?appNum=1. To make sure a law student will be available for your project, first contact the lounge at 3-7538 or 3-7539 (CJC internal only) or phillysrc1@gmail.com to check student availability.


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