Video conferencing saves time and reduces travel

Lynette Holloway, telemedicine coordinator

The Michigan Department of Corrections is leading the pack when it comes to the use of video conferencing for Parole Board interviews and telemedicine. In 2004, the department added 32 video conferencing rooms and five telemedicine sites bringing the total number of available sites to 64 at 39 separate locations.

The video conferencing units allow for parole hearings, misconduct hearings,

Lynette Holloway, telemedicine coordinator, is shown here with the new Polycom VSX 3000 desk top video system. Designed to provide video conferencing in an office environment, this state-of-the-art portable video conference equipment will make connecting sites quicker, easier and more convenient for staff.

administrative meetings and witness testimony without the transportation costs and risks to public safety necessary for face-to-face meetings.

This year, all immigration hearings for prisoners were done by video conference as well. In addition, all future Social Security Administration hearings for prisoners will be conducted over video conferencing.

Telemedicine provides for patient/doctor consultations including emergency psychiatric evaluations. At locations with electronic stethoscopes, doctors can listen to a patient’s heart and lung functions. Scopes are available that can transmit sensitive information about the ears, eyes or skin to a specialist at Duane Waters hospital or another location. Doctors are able to view x-rays or reports immediately. Dr. Craig Hutchinson, regional medical director for Correctional Medical Services, often consults with patients from his office. Prisoners can confer with dieticians and mental health professionals as well. The reduced transportation costs and more efficient use of time are prudent in today’s economic environment.

The Michigan Department of Corrections is recognized throughout the country for its success in telemedicine and video conferencing. Corrections officials and health care providers from many other states have consulted with DOC staff while starting projects of their own.

Lynette Holloway, telemedicine coordinator, Bureau of Health Care Services, is charged with keeping the growing number of video conferencing sites in service as well as coordinating the set up of any new sites.

"With new units going in all the time and trouble shooting at various sites, it becomes pretty challenging trying to keep everything up and running," said Holloway.

The use of video conferencing is expected to expand throughout the department, state government and the state and federal court system.

Currently there are more than 90 district, circuit and probate courts with video conferencing capability and the department is developing a protocol for video hearings and witness testimonies with the state court administrative office. All federal district courts in the state are equipped to conduct video conferencing and its use for prisoner witness testimony is becoming the standard.

"It’s realistic to anticipate that in the next five years every facility will have video conferencing capabilities," said Holloway. "Right now we’re running on a T1 line which is a phone line. As soon as the state’s wide area network (WAN) and the DOC’s area network are able to handle the traffic, we’ll go to an Internet Protocol or IP network."

The Department of Information Technology (DIT) is working to get the state on a single IP Network. The new line will be more versatile and reduce scheduling issues that result from limited network capabilities. In addition, the costs would be lower since phone line charges would not apply.

With a statewide IP network, all equipped DOC locations as well as all state departments and agencies would have video access. At this time, seven other state departments or agencies have video conferencing capability.

DOC will still use its current technology, a T1 line, to reach any outside agencies such as county and federal district courts but all state and department-wide communications would be handled on the IP network which does not have a per-minute charge like a phone line. This will make its application for telemedicine and Parole Board functions even more cost effective.

Carson City and Macomb correctional facilities are scheduled for telemedicine installation this year while some of the more remote locations including Camp Kitwen, Camp Lehman, Camp Manistique, Camp Ottawa and Camp Tuscola are set for video conferencing.

On occasion, the same equipment can be used for telemedicine and parole or misconduct hearings but scheduling often becomes an issue. In most cases, telemedicine equipment is installed in the facility’s health care area and video conferencing goes in the front of the facility to accommodate visitors.

While the momentum behind the expansion of the video conferencing is a push by the Parole Board to make their hearing process more efficient and the Bureau of Health Care to provide more efficient access to health care services, they are not the only areas that will benefit from the expansion of the video conferencing project.

"Each administration has a representative on the Video Conference Committee," explained Holloway. "That way we are all moving in the same direction."

The Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Initiative (MPRI) is expected to rely heavily on the technology.

The department is currently assisting the state court administrative office in the development and implementation of prisoner child support re-adjudication hearings. These hearings will take place over video conferencing with the Friend of the Court in four piloted counties. In the future, DOC will work with county offices via video conference setting up support teams for prisoners ready for re-entry. The potential also exists for prisoners to use the technology for job interviews while they are still incarcerated. By the time a prisoner is released from prison he or she could have a job lined up and a complete support network set up for parole activities all through the use of video conferencing.


2004 Video conferencing facts


The department conducted more than 10,000 video encounters in 2004.

  • Of those, 5,265 were video parole hearings conducted by the Parole Board.
  • The Hearings Division conducted an estimated 3,600 video hearings in 2004.
  • There were over 655 telemedicine encounters in 2004 bringing the total to more than 6,000 since the inception of the program in 1996.
  • There were an undetermined number of Immigration and Social Security hearings.
  • An unspecified number of court hearings and administrative meetings were held.
  • In addition, Governor Jennifer M. Granholm visited Central Office and addressed DOC employees across the state in a  video conference last year. Two central office conference rooms linked with 25 locations state wide connecting more than 500 DOC staff members with the Governor for an interactive visit.


Michigan Department of Corrections FYI 020305