Champaign Common Pleas Court considers video arraignments

Officials say it could save money and improve safety.

Champaign County Common Pleas Court is exploring the use of video arraignments to save money and improve safety, Champaign County Common Pleas Court Judge Nick Selvaggio said.

Three of the six courts the Tri-County Regional Jail serves use video arraignments, Scott Springhetti the executive director of the jails said.

“We can have an inmate in the video arraignment room and be connected with the court within five minutes and the arraignment last about five minutes,” Springhetti said.

Otherwise a deputy must transfer an inmate from the jail to the courthouse and back, which is more than 20 miles round trip, Springhetti said.

“By using video arraignment we save on the potential cost on transporting prisoners to and from the courts which also benefits the sheriff’s office which does handle their transport,” said Springhetti. “It also cuts down on contraband risks of items being introduced into the facility that wouldn’t have been otherwise and it eliminates any security issues with someone being unruly.”

Lt. Chris Copeland of the Champaign County Sheriff’s office coordinates the transportation for the inmates and said he supports video arraignments. He allocates an hour each way for a deputy to transport inmates. Officers make two trips a day taking inmates for arraignments.

Copeland said video arraignments would also eliminate deputies having to drive alone with up to nine inmates.

The Champaign County Municipal court and Union County courts use the video arraignments while Champaign Common Plea Court and Madison County courts do not.

“The video arraignments are absolutely wonderful,” said Champaign County Municipal Judge Susan J. Fornof-Lippencott.

The decision to use the technology is up to each court’s judge and Fornof-Lippencott has used it since the jail opened in December, 2000.

Judge Selvaggio approached Springhetti about using the technology in February, just three months after he started, Springhetti said.

Springhetti is now working with area judges and county commissioners to figure out how to update the jail technology to accommodate video arraignments.

Springhetti discussed technology improvements with county commissioners from Champaign, Union and Madison counties earlier this week.

Champaign County Commissioner Bob Corbett said everyone there seemed to be behind improving and utilizing new technology for the video arraignments.

“Even if the other counties do not follow through, Champaign County will most likely get video equipment for the court,” said Corbett.

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