Inmates at Nova Scotia's largest and busiest jail will be able to make certain court appearances without leaving the correctional facility now that six additional video booths have been installed on site.

The new booths are part of a $6.8-million renovation underway at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth.

It's the first overhaul of the facility — which is commonly known as the Burnside jail — since it opened in 2001. 

The video booths eliminate the need for inmates to travel to court for minor matters, such as setting dates for future hearings. Providing the court agrees, they will be able to appear via video link. 

Reno controversy

Other improvements at the jail include a new ventilation system and better security cameras. 

But the main focus is a switch to what's called a "direct supervision" model in which a cluster of cells are arranged surrounding a living area where guards will be stationed and able to observe and interact with inmates.

The move to the direct supervision model is not without controversy. The union representing jail guards has questioned the safety of the new configuration, saying it places workers at risk.

The Burnside jail has been plagued by problems of violence in the past. Documents obtained by CBC News last year showed jail staff had been attacked nearly 100 times by inmates over a three-year period.

The province has argued the direct supervision model is an industry standard that is already in place at the Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Pictou and has been used at the youth jail in Waterville since 1988.

The changes do not affect the cells themselves; there will still be both single and double-bunk cells at the facility.

Inmates transferred

Construction is now focused on the north unit of the jail, which is usually home for up to 154 inmates.

The unit is currently closed for construction and some inmates have been transferred to the Pictou jail. That means much longer commutes in sheriffs' vans for court appearances in the Halifax area.

Once work on the north unit is finished, it will shift to the jail's west unit, which also has 154 beds.