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Friday, July 13th, 2012

Inmates may appear in court via video

By Shelley Grieshop
CELINA - Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey is seeking nearly $50,000 in video equipment that would allow inmates to attend court hearings from jail.
The technology - valued at $49,269 - would save travel time and related expenses for the deputies who must escort prisoners back and forth from jail to the courthouse several miles away, Grey said. He also noted it would give his officers more time to patrol the county and investigate crime.
"I think it's really going to save us a lot of time on the road," he said.
Funding for the equipment will come from the dollars generated by the 15-year, 0.5 percent sales tax levy voters approved in November 2007.
County commissioners on Thursday supported the idea during a meeting with Grey and his department's network administrator, Kory Hoffhines. However, commissioner Jerry Laffin said the county prosecutor and the data processing board need to approve the purchase before the board of commissioners can give final approval.
Grey said prosecutor Andy Hinders and county auditor Randy Grapner earlier told him he could not purchase the technology with the levy money because it was not included in the initial list of items taxpayers agreed to fund in 2007. It was removed from the list because officials knew it wouldn't be needed for at least a year after the prison opened, Grey and Laffin said.
Grey recently wrote to the Ohio Attorney General's Office about the issue and was told the language of the tax levy, as it was presented to voters, allows for the purchase.
The video equipment will network the jail with common pleas court where the inmate will appear on a television screen. If the judge approves, an inmate won't have to leave the facility along state Route 29 to attend pretrial hearings or other proceedings that don't require an in-court appearance. Inmates must attend some proceedings such as arraignments and trials.
Prisoners also will be able to meet with their attorneys in private conferences via the video link.
Grey said the technology is compatible with the state's system and could be used for inmates in Ohio's prisons who are seeking judicial release from the local court.
"We wouldn't have to go pick them up at taxpayers' cost," he said.
In other business Thursday, commissioners agreed to hire structural engineers from Shell & Meyer Associates of Dayton to provide an assessment of the storm damage to the grandstands at the county fairgrounds on June 29. The county-owned Lakefield Airport in Montezuma also sustained structural damage to several buildings, and trees were knocked down on the lawn at the courthouse.
No damage estimates were available.
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