County Turns to Video Conferencing to Save Time and Money

Inmate making a court appearance through video conference system.

BAKERSVILLE, N. C. – Officials in Mitchell County hope to save both time and money by taking advantage of video conference technology.

Mitchell County Board of Commissioners and the Sheriff’s Office recently came together to review the cost and time required to transport inmates between the McDowell County Jail and the Mitchell County Courthouse for court appearances. In an effort to try and cut costs and reduce the required number of trips deputies must make to the jail, the sheriff’s office began researching alternate methods that would better utilize county resources in a more efficient manner so both time and money could be saved.

A proposal was made to install a video conferencing system with endpoints at both the courthouse in Bakersville and the jail in Marion. Since the tragic jail fire of 2002, Mitchell County has had to house inmates elsewhere. The county housed inmates in Rutherford County up to 2010, at which time a new contract was established with McDowell County to house prisoners in their jail. Commissioners approved the funding for the system and it should be installed within the next three weeks.

Currently, deputies are tasked with having to make the 60-mile round trip to Marion to transport inmates from the jail to court, sometimes having to make as many as three trips a day. Over time, the manpower, fuel costs, and wear-and-tear on vehicles transporting inmates adds up.

Once the new system is installed, inmates that need to make basic court appearances will be able to do so without ever stepping foot outside of the jail. The system eliminates the requirement for inmates to appear in person at the courthouse by utilizing high-speed Internet service.

The primary goal of the system is to reduce the total trips that officers must make transporting inmates to basic court appearances, which on average only last a few short minutes, then turn around and transport them back to the jail. Because the system reduces the number of officers required to transport inmates, they will be in the county and in service to respond to calls received from citizens and local businesses.

The county will make a one-time payment of $19,738 for the purchase and installation of the video conferencing system, which will be handled by Marion-based A Plus Networking.

A dedicated Internet connection will have to first be installed at the courthouse before the system will be functional. Once connectivity is established and the system goes live, it should immediately start paying for itself, and as time goes by, the county will realize financial savings.

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