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Security Technology Enhancement Plans
By Gene Atherton, NLECTC - Rocky Mountain - Institutions Program Manager
Published: 03/02/2009

Sec tech 2009feb23l It is discouraging to go through years without getting the many resources for needed technology improvements in correctional institutions. The common result is to have a “why bother” attitude and focus attention on other management challenges of the day. The problem is that when the opportunity does arise, and it is sometimes unexpected, the institution is not prepared and poor decisions can be made as a result. One of many examples is that a county jail has an inmate escape into the community. After action analysis indicates that the camera system in the jail is outdated and in need of replacement. In the midst of all the bad publicity, the county commissioners are ready to fund a major upgrade of security technology at the jail. Jail leadership needs to offer a plan to proceed immediately. Too often, that plan does not exist. The best idea is, in good times or bad, that a plan should always be ready to present. The following are some of the characteristics of a good security technology enhancement plan (STEP) for correctional agencies.

A good STEP should be like a “shopping list” that is ready to use. In the best of all worlds it should be one portion of an overall plan for the institutional security program. Like a “shopping list” it should reflect what you want, where to get the product, and it should reflect the best price.

A good STEP should be an accurate reflection of institutional needs and the ability to meet the mission requirements of the organization. For example, it is easy justify technology that relates to officer safety. It is easy to justify technology that relates to the safety of the community in the form of preventing escapes. The more direct the relationship between those outcomes and the product, the easier it is to justify. The plan speaks powerfully when those common threads are emphasized.

A good STEP, wherever possible, must connect the existence of proposed technology with performance outcomes. Decision makers on major funding issues require accountability. In other words, if you want to strengthen perimeter technology with a detection system you need to demonstrate with reliable information that past escapes have occurred through the perimeter of your institution, or through institutions with similar technology design, and that your proposed changes are going to make a substantial difference. That information needs to be reflected in your institutional technology plan. In other words, if the person approving money for your system asks for an explanation of your plan, you must be able to describe the results you intend to achieve in the form of objectives, and how they will be measured.

The STEP must be contemporary in that it should be ready to come off the shelf and be presented at any time. Technology prices and providers change constantly. However, once the format is established and support staff are aware of the right sources of information, it should not be difficult to upgrade and adjust the plan over time. “The first function of a correctional institution is to protect the public. Thus, security is of primary importance of every correctional agency. An agency that cannot prevent escapes and control violence within its institutions is considered a failure”[1] . This mission is difficult to accomplish without a successful expression of resource needs.

Depending on the needs and style of the agency, the STEP can take many design segments. As an example, some of the core functions of institutional security suggest a grouping of technologies that support the function such as perimeter security in the form of lighting, fencing materials, electronic detection of movement on the perimeter, equipment for staff duty stations (sally ports, towers, and vehicles), and electronic contraband detection. Staff and inmate communication would involve technology related to intercoms, radios, telephones, emergency callback systems, pagers, and cell phones. Again, each plan must be designed to address the needs of the institution and highlight those technologies that are a high priority for the institutions.

The technology specified in each functional area of the STEP should be specific, including a product name, unit cost, and overall cost for funding that specific function and an overall cost for funding the plan. Further, it may be helpful to have more than one plan such that each plan suggests a different funding level. Very often legislators and commissioners do not like to think there is only one option to address security concerns.

Finally, the plan should reflect changes in operating costs in short-term and long-term maintenance costs of systems being proposed. It should answer questions such can the system being proposed be conveniently folded into an existing technology maintenance program at the facility, or are additional staff services required to maintain the system? Funding for those anticipated costs should be part of the STEP proposals.

The history of corrections is full of examples where effective planning is critical to eventual outcomes. Security technology enhancement plans are particularly important in that they support the provision of a safe and secure correctional environment, and the effective investment of public funding. The typical high dollar amounts for security technology demand accountability in the form of product knowledge and professional decision making in choosing technology.

[1] Atherton and Phillips, Guidelines for the Development of a Security Program, page 3, 2007, American Correctional Association, Alexandria, Virginia.

Other articles by Atherton


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  5. Warden Hood on 04/05/2009:

    Excellent article which gives structure when developing a Security Technology Enhancement Plan (STEP). Gene Atherton continues to use his extensive experience (retired from the Colorado Department of Corrections in an executive-level position, and has authored many publications). Bob Hood National Security Specialist GE Homeland Protection robert.hood@ge.com [Retired BOP Warden]

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