We’ve seen dozens of examples of alleged offenders being arraigned via a video conferencing system on the news for a couple of decades.
Such services have not been employed in Rusk County, but that might be about to change.
Justice of the Peace, Pct. 5, Jana Ross Enloe presented the Rusk County Commissioners Court about a system that would allow the county’s other JPs to perform such actions.
The majority of the conversation revolved around the ability of certain actions to be streamlined for any number of reasons.
Currently, the magistrate hearing requires for both the magistrate and defendant to be present and exchange in conversation. This can happen two ways, either face to face or by closed circuit television (CCTV).
According to the prevailing thought, there is a need for jail security while providing for ease of the system.
Depending on the type of offense being heard, the courts have anywhere from 12 hours up to 72 hours for the accused to be brought before the magistrate.
Accused offenders who are suspected to have mental health issues have the 12-hour window to be seen.
Judge Enloe broke down the system in layman’s terms.
“Basically, it will allow us to more effectively see the inmates in a more timely manner to either give them a bond or determine if they need mental health help,” said Judge Enloe. “It also interfaces with the Sandra Bland Act and we only have 12 hours to do so, so the sooner the jail can get the info to the judge and the judge to see if the person needs mental health and get things rolling, the better it can be.”
The Sandra Bland Act maintained that county jails divert people with mental health and substance abuse issues toward treatment, making it easier for defendants to receive a personal bond if they have a mental illness or intellectual disability, and requires that independent law enforcement agencies investigate jail deaths.
Bland was at the heart of a Waller County incident involving the Illinois resident who committed suicide in 2015 while in custody in that county’s facility.
According to Enloe, this system simplifies the magistration system and allows a magistrate convenience to meet this mandate of seven days a week, 365 days a year without totally disrupting the magistrate’s weekend having to travel to the jail every day.
Paying for such upgrades for the project would come from the justice court technology fund which approves the software needed; however, the state has changed what can be paid out of that fund and personal and employee benefits are not included. The county’s security fund has a surplus of $69,000, of which, only $20,000 is needed.
The monthly cost of $195 to a service provider for a one-year contract comes to $2,340 for a more efficient way of doing magistrate work, according to Enloe.
Commissioners voted 5-0 to implement the plan.