By DENISE A. RAYMO
---- — MALONE — Franklin County uses video conferencing instead of transporting some inmates to court appearances.
The system, says Public Defender Thomas Soucia, helps him stay in better touch with his incarcerated clients, eliminates time-consuming treks to the County Jail for brief conversations, and it is expected to reduce employee burnout.
Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill says it saves his department in manpower costs and wear and tear on patrol vehicles, and it increases security because inmates’ interaction with the public is more limited.
The Sheriff’s Department, which began using video conferencing earlier this year, made more than 1,400 trips totaling 60,000 miles to court, medical, dental and mental-health appointments in 2012.
Fewer trips save money, Mulverhill said.
The Conflict Defender’s Office also employs video conferencing, and the Probation Department and likely the Department of Social Services will be added to the service soon.
The sheriff said many Family Court cases, such as child-support issues, might also be handled via video eventually.
County Data Processing Director Rob Green said the telecommunications system for the service costs the county about $100 more a month.
Soucia says he will have more time to devote to all of his cases by not going to the jail as much.
The public defender said if he visits a client in person, word spreads quickly through the jail that he is there so the 15-minute trip he planned can stretch into hours, as more inmates approach him for updates on their cases.
“Or if I have a telephone conference, it’s not uncommon for me to talk to four other people because they say, ‘Just a minute,’ and hand the phone to someone else,” he said.
Also, rather than taking the time to drive to Bare Hill Road to update a jailed client, Soucia can arrange a video conference ahead of time, speak briefly with the inmate and get on with another client's business or appear at a court session.
He said inmates concerned in the past that their case was forgotten or that the Public Defender’s Office hadn’t been in touch will be eliminated because Soucia and his staff can do quick video updates more often with more people.
“They will have more contact with us and that will make them happy,” he said.
It will also do wonders for him and his staff as far as the long days they spend in the job.
“We are salaried, so no matter if we work 80 hours or 35 hours a week, we get paid the same,” Soucia said, adding that saving time on in-person visits will give the staff a break.
“We have to be conscious of burnout,” he said. “It’s important. There is a cost savings, but I think time is the big thing here. “This will cost $100, but you would save more than that in a week,” he said.
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