Michigan Courts

At a Glance

  • Remote participation in court
  • Reduce inmate transports
  • $6 million savings to taxpayers
  • Preserve public safety

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In Michigan, Video Court Hearings Save Taxpayers Millions

A Michigan prisoner is due to appear at a 15-minute procedural hearing. The problem? The prisoner is incarcerated in an Upper Peninsula prison, a 12-hour drive from the courtroom in Lansing. Transporting him there and back will cost taxpayers as much as $1,800 and will cause two escorting officers to lose at least two full days of regular duty.

And that’s when the weather is good.

With more than 11,000 circuit, district, and probate hearings conducted in 2012 – and prisoner transports averaging at least $800 each – the price of physically bringing convicted and accused offenders to court is simply too much for Michigan taxpayers to bear. By turning to Polycom video collaboration solutions, the state allows participants to fully engage in proceedings without the expense, impact on law enforcement, and risk to public safety associated with physical transports.

Saving millions while keeping the public safe

In 2009, Michigan's State Supreme Court began installing Polycom systems in courtrooms and judges' chambers throughout the state after the Michigan Department of Corrections, which had saved millions of dollars by relying on Polycom video solutions to deliver healthcare to nearly 49,000 prisoners, saw an opportunity to save millions more in transport costs by enabling inmates to attend hearings remotely.

Now some 300 courtrooms statewide are equipped with video environments, and several attorneys and judges connect face-to-face via mobile software on iPads and Android tablets. A lifelike, high-definition experience lets participants interact as naturally as if they were in the same room. Arraignments, pretrial conferences, plea hearings, extradition waivers, misdemeanor sentencings, expert witness testimonies – the list of Michigan’s video-approved procedures keeps growing.

And so do the savings. Use of video collaboration has increased nearly tenfold in three years, and today one in four hearings incorporates video. The result? Michigan Corrections is on track to save more than $2.2 million on transports alone in 2013.

"The savings are immense, and this is just the beginning," says Michael Swayze, judicial information systems manager for the State Supreme Court, which has installed Polycom firewall traversal solutions in every county to simplify video connections and enable individual courts to more easily use their environments for training, scheduling, and administrative duties.

Eventually, Swayze says, Michigan will video-enable 900 courtrooms statewide: "County and municipal courts are all looking to cut expenses. Once these courts are equipped with video, they could collectively save five to 10 times more than the state is saving now."

These savings come on top of the productivity gains and cost reductions anticipated by organizations like Michigan State Police, which is expanding its award-winning use of Polycom solutions so forensic toxicologists can remotely testify in nearly 1,000 drunk driving trials a year.

Swayze credits Polycom systems for their ease of use and interoperability with systems from other vendors. "Judges don’t have time for technology that doesn't work the first time and every time," he says. "Conducting a video call over Polycom is nearly as easy as making a call on your cell phone. That’s why it’s everywhere in Michigan."