Biloxi launches video arraignment program

Mayor A.J. Holloway speaks with Maj. Julian Allen of the Harrison County
Sheriff’s Department during a demonstration of the new program this morning.

Mayor Holloway looks at an image on the laptop computer as Municipal Court
Judge Eugene Henry looks on.

Arraignment of prisoners in Biloxi city court used to be a two to three-hour process each Tuesday and Friday, but now it’s done in minutes.

The City of Biloxi is using internet technology to allow municipal court judges in downtown Biloxi to hear pleas from inmates housed 10 miles away at the Harrison County jail in Gulfport.

The video arraignment program, believed to be the first in the state, is a federally funded project that could serve as a model for cities along the Coast and throughout the state.

Biloxi Municipal Court Judge Eugene Henry used the program Tuesday morning to hear pleas from six prisoners and used it again today to hear pleas from 14 more inmates.

“This new program has a number of benefits for the city,” said city paralegal Connie Mercer, who helped obtain the grant to fund the program. “Judges can dedicate their time to hearing cases in court, instead of being delayed by traveling to Gulfport. We’ll no longer be tying up manpower transporting the inmates, which will not only save the taxpayers money but it avoids the safety risk of transporting prisoners.”

The judge uses a laptop computer and small camera on a desk in his chambers at the Lopez-Quave Public Safety Center to communicate with inmates who sit in front of a laptop computer and small camera in a courtroom at the county jail.

Biloxi used a portion of an $85,000 Local Law Enforcement Block Grant to fund the program, which is being used only for arraignments. The program can be initiated in other Coast cities for a few thousand dollars now that the hardware is in place.

“Judge Henry was able to hear pleas from six prisoners Tuesday morning,” said Randy Manning, Biloxi’s information technology manager. “It took him about 30 minutes and two minutes after that he opened court. Ordinarily, the judge, bailiff and officer must make separate arrangements to travel to Gulfport to handle prisoners outside of the regular court times. If the inmates are transported to Biloxi, the judge would have to hear their pleas first while everyone else had to wait or the judge would try to work them in around other court business and leave them sitting in a holding area all day.”