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Video cameras bring courtroom to inmates

November 26, 1998

Video courtBy MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




The sound of jangling leg irons was replaced Monday in Washington County District Court by the hum of the court-to-jail cameras as the first video bond reviews went off without a hitch.

The new procedure, in place for several years in Frederick County courts, eliminates the daily transport of prisoners between jail and court for bond reviews in Washington County.

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Some days, dozens of prisoners are ferried to the district court building at 35 W. Washington St., from the jail on Western Maryland Parkway.

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The number of prisoners was starting to create difficulties, and opportunities for prisoners to escape, said Washington County Sheriff Charles Mades.

The detention center used to average a daily population of 180, but that has increased to as many as 440 to 450 a day, Mades said.

Bond reviews by video on Monday found Washington County District Judge Ralph France seated at the bench with a view of the defendant on the computer screen.

In the upper left hand corner, the judge could see himself. On the inmate's side, that image was reversed.

"I've done this before, sitting in Frederick County," France said. "It saves a lot of time and money on transportation - the added security is just a bonus."

On the first day, that was illustrated by one bond review candidate who was in a wheelchair. Transportation for an inmate who uses a wheelchair would have required special efforts.

Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Arthur Rozes sat at the prosecutor's table Monday and could hear and be heard by the prisoner.

Attorneys are rarely involved in bond review situations, but when they are, they would either be in the courtroom or at the jail with their clients.

The interactive system allows for questions and answers and then bond is set.

Official paperwork will be carried back and forth several times a day, Mades said.

Mades asked the county for start-up money for the video equipment needed to do bond reviews between the jail/courtroom. And he got it.

"We will recoup that money in just a few years,'' Mades said, pointing to the savings in staff time and transportation costs.

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