To make visiting inmates easier, Pinellas County, Fla., brings prisoners and their friends and family together via a "mobile inmate video visitation bus", reports the St. Petersburg Times. The bus, outfitted with video chat capabilities, stops at four locations each week where people with appointments can speak to (and see) someone in jail for 40 minutes. This program is just one of this year's "Top 25 Innovations in Government," as selected by Harvard's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Since 1985, the center has highlighted the most effective government programs to help ward off doubt about government's effectiveness.
These semi-finalists take a novel approach to improving health and wellness, the environment, economic development, education and social services delivery. Programs in Massachusetts, California and New York account for more than half of the finalists. In Massachusetts, state agencies are working to stop the use of restraint and seclusion as a method for dealing with children plagued by mental illnesses. In New York City, the mayor's office has created a website to make volunteering easier than ever—bringing more help to the places that need it the most. On the other side of the country, judges were impressed with San Francisco's initiative to plan now for future natural disasters—a smart move for a city sitting on top of a fault line. And Louisville's, (Ky.) vow to create thousands of acres of protected park lands did not go unnoticed. Five finalists and one winner will be announced in the fall.