Videoconferencing and collaboration technology is making courtrooms safer and making inmates more accessible to their families, interpreters, education opportunities and mental health care. But not every part of the ecosystem uses the same tech to collaborate across the justice system.
“Counties and municipalities are finding more and more uses for the technology,” says Daniel Stewart, senior justice adviser for public safety and defense at Cisco. The company is an industry leader in collaboration and telepresence solutions for the justice system and law enforcement agencies — solutions that the vendor refers to under the umbrella term of Connected Justice technologies.
The Connected Justice systems are made up of a combination of telepresence hardware, collaboration and communications software and processing power. Typically, inmates engage with the systems from special cells or holding rooms outfitted with a device such as the Cisco DX70, a 14-inch video communications unit. A judge might rely on a larger unit, such as the Cisco DX80, which offers life-size video on a 23-inch screen. Some cities, counties and states also make use of Cisco TelePresence SX and MX series products, which offer displays of up to 70 inches. Agencies use applications like Cisco WebEx and Cisco Jabber to connect via video, as well as to share content.
While on-premises versions of Connected Justice systems are available, it’s the web-hosted version offered by Cisco and CDW that is allowing more organizations to adopt these solutions. As the cloud has matured, Joseph G. Mangano, senior business development strategist for public safety in state and local government at CDW, says law enforcement and judicial agencies are becoming more comfortable using hosted services. At the same time, many have made or are making network upgrades that can handle the traffic.
“What’s changed is that there are now networks and the cellular capabilities to allow mobile devices to play in this area,” says Mangano. “When you look at jails, there’s a lot of older technology in these organizations that are ripe to be replaced by newer tech. That’s what we’re seeing happen.” One might wonder, then, why cellphones aren’t being used more often, especially since they are ubiquitous.
“The CDW and Cisco telepresence solution can be delivered on all types of mobile devices, including Windows, Android and iOS operating systems. The choice of which device to deliver the service depends on many options — who the users are, where the users are, what network services are available and what user experience is the best for the situation you are delivering the service in,” Mangano says. “Mobile devices are small in nature and, therefore, do not provide the best user experience in a court setting. Our combined solution is very flexible and can be used on all types of devices in many environments.”
First, it’s important to note how Connected Justice systems aren’t being used. Telepresence solutions aren’t a replacement for the traditional trial process. Rather, they’re meant to facilitate more routine court procedures, such as arraignments. Or, if a court needs to take care of a small procedural matter for an inmate who is housed far from the courthouse, a judge might elect to conduct a hearing via video.
“If you’ve got somebody in an upstate prison in New York, and the court forgot to do something small, driving them across the state for a five-minute hearing costs a lot of money,” Stewart says. “That needs to be done by video.”
In jails, many vendors have popped up in recent years to offer video visitation systems that charge inmates’ families for access to video calls. Prisoner advocates have complained about the price and quality of some of these systems.
While Cisco technology is used to facilitate visitation programs, the vendor doesn’t collect revenue from prisoners or their families. “Cisco will never be in the business of charging a family for visitation,” says Stewart. “It’s just something we don’t do.”