Economy Drives Increase In Prison Videoconferences



Faced with the high costs of transporting and escorting sick inmates to the doctor, states are expanding their use of videoconferencing to provide health consultations to prisoners without resorting to costly off-site trips, reports Illinois is considering joining at least 26 other states that use “telemedicine” to help sick prisoners get advice from doctors. State prison officials recently met with their counterparts from Texas – which has been using telemedicine for years and is considered a national leader – to discuss whether it should be introduced in Illinois.

Elsewhere, videoconferencing is replacing inmates' trips to the courtroom or parole board. Supporters say it saves money. Arizona said it saved $237,000 in 2008 by using telemedicine at nine correctional facilities. But some criticize the expansion of videoconferencing. Relying on technology to keep inmates behind bars makes them “disappear more and more from the public consciousness,” said one advocate. Telemedicine is not a new invention, but experts say the recession is driving more states to consider or expand its use. In Georgia, about 700 of the state prison system's 1,000 monthly videoconference consultations between doctors and inmates are for psychiatric problems.

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