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Security and Technology
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 08/24/2015

Security 20110429 This month’s article looks at security and technology in corrections. Recently, the area of corrections has received its share of negative publicity. This is related to the New York Clinton Correctional Facility, where two inmates escaped. One inmate was shot and killed by law enforcement, and several days later, the other inmate was wounded and apprehended. The brash escape has certainly raised many security questions. This escape resulted in the arrest of officers and the suspension of the warden. In addition, there were new implementation and enforcement of security measures.

There are many in law enforcement and the general public who have already voiced their opinions. Unfortunately, this is one of those incidents that should have never occurred. I am going to make a profound statement; ‘security is only as good as the people you have working.’ However, there are supposed to be policies, procedures, and post orders in place to ensure all aspects of security are followed. At the same time, supervision comes into play. Supervisors are in place to assist officers, supervise the overall operation of the shift, and to reinforce policy and procedures. There are certainly other components as well. As a result of this escape, the facility has implemented ‘new security measures.’ I do not like playing arm chair quarterback; however I am curious as to what was in place previously. This incident became obvious to me and others; staff did not perform their job duties. Also, several security protocols were violated. At this time I am unsure as to what technology was in place and if it was operational.

When I saw the pipe and elaborate cutting and removal of pipe sections, I first thought of how much time was involved. Also, no one heard anything, inmates allowed out of their cells, no cell searches apparently, the pipe chase and other closed areas had not been searched recently, security checks and logged information, and the list goes on and on. You and I also have responsibility to inform our supervisor and others, when we notice something is not correct, suspicions, etc. We can never become lax and lose sight of safety and security measures. Fortunately, no one was injured during the escape.

There are certainly a variety of security and technology available to assist in the overall safety and security of the prison. Again though, some of the technology will be monitored by staff. The use of cameras and other electronic censors can be utilized. Again, not sure of what, if any, additional technology was in place. As this incident is thoroughly investigated and information is released, we will have a clearer picture of what actually occurred and the time sequence. When I begin to research and read about technology, I can say wow. I like to look back when I began my career in the 70’s and reflect upon how things were done then and how the technological advancements have improved to what we have today. Unfortunately, like everything else, there are some cost factors to consider and not all agencies will have the necessary funding for this.

I will discuss some of the present technology and security equipment in our prisons. Protective gear, electronic restraint devices, chemical agents, radios, tasers, less impact weapons and devices, are only a few of the many items available for officer use. Something we also must consider is that not all will be receptive to the use of technology in our jails and prisons. This can include some of our officers and other staff. To supplement security in our prisons and jails, we see an increase in the use of security and surveillance cameras. This technology allows for fewer officers and safer prisons. The equipment is designed to be tamper resistance and sturdier. Along with the security/surveillance cameras we are seeing an increase in body-worn and eye-wear cameras available for corrections use as well.

Electronic monitoring has been available for any years. However, now we have a selection of global positioning systems (GPS) bracelets/monitors to utilize. Along with this we see the geographical information system (GIS). This “lets us visualize, question, analyze, and interpret data to understand relationships, patterns, and trends.” These advancements have led to the creation of radio-frequency identification tracking. The inmate/offender wears the electronic bracelet and can be easily tracked. Identification badges and bracelets used by officers can also be embedded and their movement and access can be monitored. I recently read an article where a drone was used to fly over the prison fence and land. Attached to the drone was a cell phone. Go figure. This brings up the following; many of our inmate population have the necessary skills and knowledge in the application of electronics, computers, signals and frequency, and other components. Even though technology is beneficial in many ways, the downside always exists.

The National Institute of Justice provides funding for corrections technology research. “The research focuses on improvements in four focus areas:
  • Safety within correctional agencies.
  • Efficacy of offender supervision.
  • Allocation of resources within correctional agencies to reduce costs, enhance staff management and reduce injuries.
  • Collaboration between state, local, tribal and federal correctional agencies and other criminal justice agencies through the integration of technology information."
Some states are now utilizing ‘video visitations.’ The visits can be conducted outside of regular visiting hours. Some of the advantages are less costly for families to visit, no contraband issues, etc. The flip side is the cost and not all can afford this. This can be easily monitored, recorded, and other. Yet again, there are privacy issues and concerns. I am sure litigation will result. Some other technological advances include use of technology in medical matters; the inmate and doctor virtual checkups; use of tablets by inmates. Several vendors are providing these products in some facilities. There is a rental fee. Technological advances continue on a daily basis.

I am from the older era and can remember the great efforts we went to in attempts to keep contraband out. Now these new advancements are being marketing as ways to help rehabilitate the offender and see their successful reintegration back into the community. There will be many security and safety concerns with technology and availability to the inmate population. Regardless of which direction the facility goes; safety and security can never be sacrificed. The digital age is upon us with many challenges. Meanwhile, stay safe out there.

Terry Campbell is a criminal justice professor at Kaplan University, School of Public Safety and has more than 20 years of experience in corrections and policing. He has served in various roles, including prison warden and parole administrator, for the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Terry may be reached at tcampbell@kaplan.edu.

Other articles by Campbell


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