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NIJ's Research on Videoconferencing Pretrial Release Hearings

Identifying protocols that improve practices and maximize return on investment using videoconferencing to expedite pretrial release hearings for defendants who are being held in jail awaiting trial.
Date Published
January 31, 2020

Phase I results

The results for Phase I of this project are available in a full report (pdf, 48 pages) and an executive summary (pdf, 9 pages).

Videoconferencing technologies implemented in prisons and other criminal justice system settings demonstrate reduced transportation costs, increased prisoner security, expedited case processing and reallocation of staff resources to agency priorities. However, the integration of remote technology into criminal court proceedings remains limited.

The purpose of this project is to identify protocols that improve practices and maximize return on investment using videoconferencing to expedite pretrial release hearings for defendants who are being held in jail awaiting trial. In other words, can videoconferencing at the pretrial stage reduce jail overcrowding and courthouse burden, and help defendants maintain community ties and prepare for hearings by increasing their time at liberty?

View slides from NIJ's presentation at the 2014 National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies' Conference.

Research Questions

  • What are the working standards for conducting and recording videoconferences, archiving and making files accessible, and addressing issues associated with video court transcripts?
  • How do the defendant, victim/witness, jail and court respond to the videoconferencing protocol? 
  • How are processes (access to counsel and court interpreters), short-term outcomes (release decision) and long-term outcomes (failure to appear) affected?  
  • What is the impact in terms of jail days, court hearing continuations, failure to appear unit follow-ups, law enforcement warrant service, etc.?
  • What are the cost implications of implementation and maintenance?

Project Design

The project is currently in the first phase of compiling information on videoconferencing protocols before field testing and evaluation in subsequent phases.

  • Phase 1: Blueprint — Compile information on past and current videoconferencing applications via interviews and court/jail observation to identify key concerns and solutions (court rules) for protocol.
    The results of the first phase of this project are available. Read the full report (pdf, 48 pages) or the executive summary (pdf, 9 pages).
  • Phase 2: Field Test — Conduct implementation and assessment studies in two pilot sites (one rural), and modify protocol per field experience over a relatively short period via qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis.   
  • Phase 3: Evaluation — Submit final protocol to multiple new sites for self-implementation and support an objective cost-efficiency study over an extended period.

NIJ’s Expert Workgroup

All project phases are assisted by a workgroup of court technology and practicing experts who represent victim advocates, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, court administrators, court interpreters, pretrial release services personnel and jail sheriffs. They consult on blueprint development, operational protocol field testing and implementation evaluation, and participate in planning and review meetings with stakeholders including representatives of bail/bond, victim/witness, law enforcement and other criminal justice interests.

National Institute of Justice, "NIJ's Research on Videoconferencing Pretrial Release Hearings," January 31, 2020, nij.ojp.gov:
Date Created: June 23, 2015