Innovative use of video conferencing is allowing prisons and court to operate much more efficiently and safely, allowing for a quicker adjudication of criminal cases while reducing costs to taxpayers, panelists said today during a press conference on the subject.

Sponsored by Cisco Systems, which provides video-conferencing solution, the press conference focused on initiatives implemented in three different areas of the country.

In Florida, the Ninth Circuit Court is using video conferencing to virtual remote interpretating, which enables interpreters to participate in courtroom proceedings without having to travel to the physical location of the court, said Matt Benefiel of the Ninth Circuit Court. Before video conferencing, this circumstance required extensive use of contract interpreters, but those expenses have decreased marketedly with the new approach, he said.

"We eliminated contractual costs," Benefiel said during the press conference. "If we had two events happening in two different court houses that were 10 minutes apiece, we would have to hire two contract interpreters or lose two staff interpreters the majority of the day with traffic. For two contract interpreters, that would have been $220 for 10 minutes; where our interpreter can sit at his/her desk and hop around either site instantaneously."

During the first year, the Ninth Circuit saved more than $40,000 in contract-interpreter costs, and that figure increased to $115,000 during the past year, Benefiel said.

"It's been a win-win for us," he said. "We recovered our initial investment nine months into our first year of the project."

Similar stories were shared by Judge John Roach of Collin County, Texas, where video conferencing is being used to let lawyers immediately share plea offers with inmates, instead of having to drive to the local jail. Roach said he believes the system has saved the county more than $125,000.

One problem with court proceedings being conducted in a courtroom is that inmates have to be transported to the site, which requires additional law-enforcement personnel. By using video conferencing, Ada County, Idaho is able to save on the cost of deputies for this duty, as well as freeing their time to perform other law-enforcement functions, said Kelsey Proctor, systems specialist for the Ada County Sheriff's office.

In addition to the savings of time and money, the video-conferencing approach has increased safety, she said.

"You start to look at a decrease in facility violence," Proctor said. "Every time you take an inmate out of their cell, you introduce risk, because you have to move them throughout the facility."