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BOP's Videoconferencing Network: A Cost-Effective Way of Doing Business

NCJ Number
Corrections Today Volume: 65 Issue: 4 Dated: July 2003 Pages: 54-56
Robert J. Palmquist; Jim Mahan
Date Published
July 2003
This article discusses videoconferencing as a solution enabling the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to expand the abilities of its work force and save financial resources.
The BOP comprises 70 facilities and more than 80,000 inmates. Within another few years, there will be nearly 120 facilities. The BOP has been interested in videoconferencing since the early 1990's to allow the agency to use resources more effectively to expand services. In 2000, the BOP established an executive-level work group to conduct a review of the potential uses of videoconferencing and to develop a plan to effectively use videoconferencing on a nationwide basis to accomplish multiple functions. A feasibility study was conducted and the results showed a potential for providing significant cost avoidance opportunities in several areas, such as probation and parole hearings, minor court appearances for civil trials, medical services, disciplinary hearings, and consultations with religious clerics. Concerns included how to coordinate the use of the video technology by different staff and functions and the potential disruption of service when the technology is not working correctly. One of the key issues was providing a videoconferencing network that would enable staff from all disciplines to use the technology. Centralized oversight and management of the nationwide video network became key to supporting the critical day-to-day mission of the BOP. In order to minimize the costs, an Internet Protocol (IP) solution using the current local area and wide-area networks’ infrastructures was developed. Implementation occurred in three phases: (1) enhancing communications at every institution, administrative office, and training center; (2) installation of a central bank of 15 Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) lines; and (3) removal of hundreds of older ISDN communications lines from facilities. Actual implementation of the IP Video Conference network began in November 2002. This phase of its videoconferencing network is expected to become the platform for future technologies that will further enhance the BOP’s ability to ensure a safe correctional environment using optimally cost-effective solutions.