Clanton Municipal Court implements video conferencing

Published 5:04 pm Monday, February 18, 2013

Instead of going before Clanton Municipal Court Judge Hollis Jackson last week, some inmates at the Chilton County Jail last week were on Facebook.

They weren’t posting on friends’ “timelines,” though, or browsing their “news feed.”

The prisoners were using the web-based social media site Facebook for a video conference call with Jackson, who was holding court at Clanton Police Department.

Last week marked the first time for the city’s municipal court to use video conferencing, said CPD Capt. Neil Fetner.

“We can’t monitor them as well here in our holding facility when we take them out of the jail,” Fetner said.

Feb. 12 marked the first time video conferencing was used during Clanton Municipal Court. There are likely to be more cases using the technology on Tuesday.

Like they always had, a CPD probation officer travels to the jail. But with video conferencing, the officer sets up the inmates in front of a computer instead of transporting them.

Once everything is set up at the jail, a “call” is made from a Facebook account used by the officer to an account used by the judge. All Facebook accounts involved are business accounts, Fetner said.

When the connection is made, the gallery can see and hear the inmate on two widescreen televisions in the courtroom. Jackson has a laptop behind the bench.

The inmate can only see and hear Jackson.

“I think it makes things a little more efficient,” Fetner said.

If there’s a problem with the technology, Fetner said the probation officer would bring the inmates to the courtroom, as was done in the past.

Though attorneys representing clients in court now must visit those clients at the jail prior to court, Fetner said all decisions are made based on fairness.

“If you hire somebody five minutes before court and you haven’t had a chance to meet with them, of course we’re going to go down there and bring you to court,” Fetner said.

Using Facebook for the video conferences is temporary. Fetner said he hopes to install an internal program. But not transporting inmates from the jail to the courtroom is a technique likely to stick around.

“This solves a lot of problems,” Fetner said.