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Video didn’t kill the radio star
By Ann Coppola, News Reporter
Published: 01/07/2008

Rfid The same technology that allows you to zoom through highway tollbooths, zip through subway gates with the flash of a card, or check out a DVD from your local library is growing in popularity throughout the corrections world.

Radio-frequency identification technology, or RFID, which was once used by Russian spies as well as World War II allies to identify friendly and enemy airplanes, is now behind the inmate-tracking systems that are shaking up the security operations field. The hot technology uses transmitters, known as tags, to communicate and to store and retrieve data.

“Everyone in the prison, inmates and staff, wear one of two forms of a radio transmitter that sends a unique signal every two seconds,” says Greg Oester, president of Alanco/TSI Prism, the company that has been providing RFID tracking for the corrections market since 2001.

“Those signals are collected by an array of antennas we put around and throughout the facility,” adds Oester, whose company currently services eight facilities in six states. “There’s a supervising computer system that processes the signals and communicates the location of the transmitter at each interval when signals are sent.”

From the supervising computer, little dots on the screen let a CO see the location of those wearing the transmitters.

“We archive all of the two-second transmissions from everyone’s transmitters,” Oester explains. “Then we can go back in the database and determine where anyone was at any time in the past. For example, if there is an assault, we can go back to when it occurred, find who was present and immediately identify a list of suspects. The RFID becomes a very powerful tool for internal affairs to resolve any kind of incident in question.”

Although no specific link has been tied to the technology and decreases in violence, the results so far seem promising.

“Inmates know they’re being tracked, they know they can’t deny their presence at an event,” Oester says. “It prohibits behavior in that way. Reports out of California suggest a 60 percent decrease in violence after the first year. The National Institute of Justice is working on a study that will provide a more academic approach, and will be the first third party review of the technology I’m aware of. RFID is in its early years in corrections, and you want the true value understood.”

True value is always a concern for budget-conscious directors, but so is the high price tag these systems may have.

“Of course there’s a cost issue, a budget issue, but we have a number of active procurements going on, so the adoption of the technology is beginning to accelerate,” says Oester.

Minnesota is one state looking to join the RFID trend. The Minnesota Department of Corrections is in the process of installing RFID transmitters on 87 minimum security inmates at its Lino Lakes facility, which only utilizes a simple fence around its offenders instead of traditional security barriers or perimeter intrusion detection devices”

“So it’s possible for a minimum security offender to simply walk away from our facility,” says Warden David Crist. “When it’s finished [the new system] will consist of a wrist band or ankle bracelet on each minimum security inmate. We have a classification system that we think only nominates offenders who aren’t a good risk for that, but occasionally they will make bad decisions. With the RFID, we will know immediately when they walk off.”

Crist says his staff will not wear any of the tracking devices, and he isn’t sure when the system will be fully operational, but he hopes by mid-January.

It remains to be seen if RFID will take off and really hit its stride in corrections, but Oester is optimistic.

“We’re always looking to enhance the technology,” he says. “I think in the coming years we will be integrating our technology with other security systems. We certainly envision integrating jail management systems with RFID, so there could be one point of data entry for all the inmates.”

Related Resources:

The many uses of RFID technology.

Learn more about Alanco


  1. Anthony P on 03/05/2020:


  2. Gene Atherton on 01/03/2008:

    RFID has been around for years. Many states have looked for ways to afford the substantial price tag without success. It seems to make financial sense only when it takes the place of other security equipment that would be purchased as a facility is first constructed. Otherwise, it is a major investment to replace equipment already serving the purpose. Should there be emperical evidence that it has a direct relationship to reducing violence, it would create opportunities for the future. I would like to see the results of the study mentioned.

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