To cut down on the possibility for a prisoner escapes, the state will start experimenting with television conferencing for inmates’ first court appearances.

The technology will connect jails with courts so prisoners can stay locked up instead of being shackled and driven to a courtroom for their arraignments. They’ll still face the judge, but they’ll be making eye-contact through the video screen in a special room inside the jail.

“People who are in custody will remain so, and you don’t have to take them outside,” Ted Glessner, a state court administrator, said Thursday. Plus, he said video arraignments will prevent family or friends showing up for a court appearance and causing problems or slipping an inmate jail contraband.

The new program will be launched today in the Augusta district court and the Kennebec County Jail, which are down the street from one another, Glessner said. A few weeks later, Aroostook County will receive the equipment as phase two of the pilot program. Depending on the success of these two programs, other counties could be considered for the technology, Glessner said.

“If we had video technology, we would never have to transport people for arraignments,” Farmington County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Ray Meldrum said Friday, adding that driving juveniles from jail to court requires police to make a four-hour round trip at least.

For other counties, like Oxford, where the district and superior courts are separated by just a parking lot, the technology might make less sense.

“In Aroostook County, they desperately wanted this to be in place because of the long distances from jails to courthouses,” Glessner said. “We have long thought (the video technology) was a good idea for Maine because of our geography and distances.”

Glessner said he’s not sure what the cost benefits might be, if any, right now. The cost of installing and maintaining the equipment will be compared to the current expense of transporting inmates.

He said the pilot program is being paid for by a $350,000 bond approved by the Legislature two years ago.

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