Australia: the problems of prison overcrowding and slow justice are successfully solved thanks to video conferencing.
The justice sector has proved to be among the areas of public administration that can reap the benefits of video conferencing. In addition to the well-known cost and time savings, video conferencing can also help to improve safety and reduce stress of prison officers and other people involved in the process. In Italy, one of the people who strongly support video conferencing solutions incorporation into national legal system is the anti-Mafia prosecutor Nicola Gratteri. But while in Italy there is still a long way to go, in other countries the systematic use of video conferencing in court proceedings is already a reality.
The Australian Case
The Anglo-Saxon countries are often at the forefront of science and technology, and they also believe in the high potential of video conferencing usage in the justice sector. In Australia, for example, listening to the testimonies of inmates directly from prison, connecting them via videoconference, becomes an everyday practice. Australia, in fact, is facing an increase in prison population, which presents real challenges in terms of cost and personnel. Video conferencing systems have already been installed in four prisons and 11 courtrooms in the state of Victoria, meeting the growing demand for court proceedings. The Chief Magistrate Peter Lauritsen explains that expanding the use of video conferencing in court can help have more proceedings per unit of time and also adapt better to different types of proceedings. In particular, when the cases of family violence are discussed, people can choose to connect remotely with their tablets or smartphones, reducing the psychological impact and stress generated by these situations. Besides, teleconferences also reduce the administrative costs related to lawyers’ visits to prisoners.
The urgency for the project of this kind became especially evident last year, during the prison overcrowding crisis, when just in a single month more than 100 inmates were unable to assist at scheduled court proceedings, including those for bail requests. The prison population in the state of Victoria, in fact, has grown from about 4,500 inmates in 2010/11 to 5,800 in 2013/14, mainly because of the increased number of people whose proceedings on conditioned freedom were refused or cancelled. However, this year, lawyers and other professionals can communicate with courts and prisons in web conference, using their laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Video Conferencing: the most effective and economical solution
Last year, in order to ease the pressure on public administration personnel, the state of Victoria decided to extend the opening hours of its courts to six days a week and organized weekly courtroom audiences. But it was not enough. And it was at that moment, when video conferencing became the solution of long-term justice problems. It’s an example from Australia other countries should follow. Given the manifold problems of our judicial systems – from prison overcrowding to slow justice – the introduction of video conferencing is the fastest, most effective and cost-efficient solution.
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