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LAWRENCE COUNTY Video system links jail, courtroom



Published: Wed, May 2, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



A satellite county treasurer's office will open in Ellwood City on June 6.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU

NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Some inmates at the Lawrence County Jail won't have to travel far for hearings in the next few months.

County commissioners agreed to try out a video conferencing system that will keep inmates in jail and allow them to see and hear everything happening at New Castle District Justice Melissa Amodie's courtroom.

Court Administrator Philip Boudewyns said the county was offered the equipment free for 60 days by Prime Companies Inc. of New Castle. Prime Companies is also installing a high-speed, wireless Internet connection in the county government center.

The court administrator said Prime Companies has not told the county the cost of buying the equipment yet.

Boudewyns said links to the jail and Amodie's office should be up and running in about three weeks.

The high speed connections will allow the inmate and the judge to see each other in real time.

"This could potentially reduce the cost of transportation and reduce security concerns. It will also reduce the burden on the sheriff's office," he said.

Last year, President Judge Ralph D. Pratt ordered county sheriff's deputies to start transporting prisoners to hearings at the county's five district justice offices. Police previously transported inmates from the jail.

Sheriff Robert Clark complained that he didn't have enough deputies. At least two deputies are needed to transport a prisoner.

Three deputies were recently added to the sheriff's staff.

Boudewyns said Amodie's office was chosen for the trial period because it is near the jail and should have the strongest wireless connection. The jail is about two blocks away.

Amodie said she expects to use the equipment for arraignments and pleas. She was unsure if preliminary hearings could be held via video conference.

The equipment can only be used if the inmate agrees, she said.

The decision to buy the equipment and use it in other district justice offices will depend on if it's cheaper than transporting inmates, Boudewyns said.

Branch office: In other business, the county treasurer's office is setting up shop in Ellwood City.

County commissioners agreed to lease 307 Fifth St. for a satellite office where people can pay their taxes and buy dog, fishing and hunting licenses.

The office will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays starting June 7, said Gary Felasco, county treasurer and tax claim bureau director.

Commissioner Roger DeCarbo said the move is an attempt to alleviate parking problems at the county government center here. The county has a small lot near the government center, rents a nearby church parking lot and has some parking near the county jail on Milton Street.

Commissioners have had complaints that there are few parking spaces available when there are trials at the government center and during tax-paying season.

Felasco said his office alone issued 1,140 receipts Monday to people taking advantage of the last day to pay 2001 county taxes at a discount. Lines were 20 to 30 people deep at different times that day.

County officials will rent the Ellwood City site for $400 per month.

Commissioner Ed Fosnaught said they will decide on a monthly basis if the Ellwood City office will remain open. If it's not being utilized, it will be closed, he said.




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