Five ways in which WebRTC could have transformed Alcatraz

By Sajeel Hussain - July 1, 2014

My first meeting with Slade Trabucco, CEO of Jurislink, was eye opening. 

Slade, a criminal attorney, talked to me at length about the needs of practicing attorneys and correctional facilities in the United States. The US judicial system gives inmates with limited resources the option to be represented by a court appointed attorney for legal proceedings. However, most interactions are conducted in person, which means state funded attorneys are forced to travel extensively to meet with clients (in some cases over 4 hours per visit). Occasionally, an interpreter is also needed on site for translation work. The process is expensive and an inefficient use of taxpayer’s money. Slade saw internet based video conferencing technology as an obvious solution to these pain points and subsequently formed his current company – Jurislink.

Jurislink’s software solution was quickly deployed in 8 correctional facilities across Virginia and North Carolina. It allowed attorneys from anywhere in the world to access a website and launch a video conference with an inmate, who would be sitting in a kiosk outfitted with a computer and a webcam at the scheduled time. The conference was secure, confidential and not recordable as per regulations. The initial solution relied on Microsoft Lync, which not only involved installation of a soft client on each attorney’s computer, but also required attorneys to go through extra steps to initiate the computer’s microphone and camera. Slade quipped, “Attorneys are not technologists” and, as the volume of support calls began exploding, it became clear that a more user friendly solution was needed.

Fast-forward two months to when Slade was introduced to WebRTC and CaféX Communications via a good friend of his who works at Cisco Systems (an OEM partner of CaféX). That's when Slade realized the full potential of using a WebRTC based solution to expand his reach across the US (beyond NC & Virginia). Here are the top 5 reasons that led Slade to migrate to a WebRTC based solution from CaféX, which is now in production:

  1. WebRTC is plugin-less and requires no browser soft client: Attorneys and inmates can avoid the headache of downloading plugins or soft clients. IT staff do not need to be concerned about maintaining and managing client installs across the user base! Significant cost savings right there.
  2. It's a seamless experience with WebRTC: The attorneys sign on to an application and with one click can initiate a conference with an inmate. No need to set up a microphone, camera or other component. It just works!
  3. Multi-party conference: The solution supports conferencing multiple people into the conference via audio/video. It could be translators, family members, or prosecutors that are easily added to the conference.
  4. Extension to mobile devices (iPad): With native mobile application integration supported by CaféX WebRTC-based APIs across iOS and Android, attorneys can fire up the Jurislink app on their preferred mobile devices and launch in-app communication experiences. The workflow is consistent between mobile and web-based versions.
  5. Beyond video with Live Assist: The CaféX Live Assist solution allows attorneys to go beyond video collaboration within the Jurislink app. Attorneys can push legal documents for review, highlight important sections via on-screen drawing, push links of relevance and co-browse with other parties on the video conference. A key value is that no extra software downloads are needed by either the attorney or inmate.

Talking to Slade, he was no doubt nervous about marrying his idea to a nascent technology such as WebRTC. Needless to say, things changed when he saw the solution in action, and his confidence in the solution comes through strongly in this recent CIO article. As I went through this journey with Jurislink, I couldn't help but relate his experiences with the most notorious prison that I knew of – Alcatraz. If only WebRTC would have been around then, maybe Al Capone would have spoken to his attorney on a WebRTC enabled endpoint!