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Technology – Friend or Foe?
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 02/28/2011

Robot vacuum Without a doubt, it was one of the strangest greetings that I have ever experienced. Clearly, she was transformed. Her large gray/green eyes shone brightly and her face was glowing. Her expression reminded me of the face of a child who had just opened history’s best birthday present. In a voice laden with unmistakable enthusiasm, she exclaimed, “Look at my new robot!” Her smile was an enigmatic twist, a mingling of pride, wonder, and jubilation.

What I saw was a gray disc methodically traversing every square inch of my carpet. This 24 inch motorized vacuum was no thicker than a 1,200 page book and probably lighter. No, this was not a humaniform robot as depicted in an Isaac Asimov novel. But, it certainly was a useful tool.

New tools can be wonderful. Their very existence allows us to save labor and even enjoy an otherwise mundane day. But is the future always brighter? Will the new wonders break down? Will we take for granted what was previously marvelous? Will everyone welcome changes with open minds and arms?

There are so many reactions to new technology. In the name of staff unity and smooth operations, it behooves us to examine them.

Some of us are quickly drawn in to the novelty. We adapt to the new utilities of the technology with vitality. This enthusiasm certainly helps drive a productive change. For example, the new metal detector or security system in your facility are less formidable if your colleagues are proponents.

However, there is a very real danger. Those who put too much faith in a new system may forsake the merits of the existing tactics and modes of operation. Zealots may label tried and true ways as archaic. This opens the door for a rift between colleagues, as traditionalist are categorized as behind the times and often treated that way.

Of course, traditionalist may shun innovations. They reason that our success lies in human efforts, not in fancy gadgets. They believe that we can learn nothing from what should be regarded as a new toy or the flavor of the month. Change is fleeting and the traditional way is best.

This causes a reaction that impacts operation in a negative way. Sabotage and division may result from the resistance to change. For example, the inevitability of technology can be seen in computerized prisoner movement systems. Yet, there will always be staff that militate against this, even if it means a better accountability and enhanced safety.

Clearly, there must be a blending of the two opposing philosophies. It is useful to look at the new tools as enhancements to existing methods. In other words, we need to apply objective corrections analysis with each modification that technology brings to our operations. And the old systems are useful as a way to operate in the event that the new technology experiences temporary inactivity.

I once heard someone remark that staff will be obsolete one day. He said that an officer in the form of a robot will simply scan the identification card, assess the behavior, and print an appropriate misconduct report on the spot. This was, I believe, said in tongue and cheek. However, it raises the point that some prisoners assess technology and how it may change the conditions in which they are housed.

With every system, whether there is a new technology or new methods, there will be tests. Some enterprising prisoners will evaluate ways around the system in order to maximize their comfort. That is human nature and it is to be anticipated.

As staff, we must think of the ways that others would thwart the system in order that we preserve it. We are faced with innovations every day that are potentially harmful. The decreasing size and increasing utility of cell phones/cameras diminish our safety. Prisoners equipped with these forbidden implements have the ability to communicate and record physical plant layouts and staff moves as never before. Removable miniature computer drives are now smaller than two inches. Their existence places a potential encyclopedia in the hands of inmates who would dare to use the devices. Such a drive could store maps, sensitive information, and staff data. Traditional corrections vigilance and new detection methods merge to mitigate the threat of unauthorized technology smuggled from the outside.

New technology does not necessarily mean the end of how we do things. Our operations are still predicated on the overall mission of security for staff, prisoners, and the public. In a sense, technological improvements may take us on different roads. However, our ultimate destination is still the same.

A gleeful welcome to a new tool does not equal naïve blindness to overdependence on technology. This is actually a logical progression from the first stone axe created by our distant ancestors. All tools have the potential to help or hinder our causes. It is, quite simply, the responsibility of the operator to wield the technological innovations in a responsible manner.

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