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Security & Technology
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 04/29/2019

Security 20110429 The original version of this article was printed in August 2017 on Corrections.com.

We have another very good topic to discuss in August; Security & Technology. There are many components when we look at these two topics. First, I will look at security and some recent incidents. Some of these incidents were triggered through the use of technology.

Recently, we have observed many escapes throughout the country. Many of these escapes resulted in additional crimes and injuries to the offender, officers, and the general public. It is very easy to sit back and find fault, yet once we determine how the escape occurred, additional questions surface. Could this escape have been prevented? What were the errors or breeches of security? Were the officers performing their duties? Some tough questions, with some answers we often do not want to hear. This is an ideal time to do an assessment and address any potential areas of concern. We cannot become complacent with technology and expect this to be the cure all. Let’s not forget, so much of the technology used, is operated by staff and/or officers.

Use of cellphones continues to be problematic throughout many of our jails and prisons. Are we doing all we can with our searches? Who is bringing in the cellphones? Do officers know the cellphones are in their areas of assignment and are the rules being enforced? Yes, unfortunately there is a lot of money to be made and some uniform and non-uniform personnel are willing to take the risks. The old adage surfaces once again: ‘security is only effective as those we have working’ or is it? Regardless of the type of contraband, if staff is uniform or non-uniform, they have an individual responsibility to report any potential security breech.

More and more prisons are experiencing the delivery of contraband via drones. Crazy yes, yet a reality check. One fear I have with this is it is just a matter of time until weapons are delivered. Many states have already drafted legislation to prosecute individuals outside our prisons and jails and those inside caught. If an individual has a cellphone already, it’s very easy to coordinate delivery of contraband. We already know visitation and recreation schedules.

There many other security and issues staff deal with on a daily basis in our prisons and jails. At times there seems like there is only so much that can be accomplished. Many of our facilities are facing overcrowded conditions on top of everything else, with diminishing resources. We have to be aware of what our mission is and yet provide a safe and secure environment. In many ways we have our work cut out for us. Technology is a great resource and tool, however, this can be very costly for many prison systems. Some potential areas of concern; are all staff using the technology properly trained? Is your facility using inmate skills to maintain and make some repairs to the devices? Is there some type of certification involved? Who has received training in how to repair the equipment? Are we so dependent on the technology that we do not know what to do when technology fails? Unfortunately, the answers to many of these questions is yes, in some facilities throughout the country.

I was reading a recent article published by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). NIJ.Gov.keyword:229196. I will discuss some new technology and research being conducted for new technology. Something to keep in mind, not all technology devices are favored by all facilities. There always been concern from staff that some hand held wanes and screening will only pick up metal objects. Now we all know that not all weapons will be made from metal. Substitute materials can be very effective as well. Through various research and experimentation, scanning and detection devices will use radio waves. This technology allows staff to conduct searches for other weapons and contraband.

Several facilities have been testing airport scanners used by airports. These are effective, except they will not detect any contraband located in body cavities. This has been recognized and research is being conducted to use electronic field tomography (EFT) in efforts to detect contraband in body cavities. Hopefully, this technology will alert officers that contraband may exist.

Some facilities utilize radio frequency identification technology (RFID) tags. These can easily be part of a wristband or something similar, and used to track individuals. There is an alert when the individual enters an authorized area. Many probation and parole department have GPS technology to assist with the supervision of offenders in the community. One other area to consider is that through a computer program, ‘Hot Spots’ can be identified throughout the prisons. This will assist the facility in identifying where additional staff may be needed.

I presented some technology and covered briefly these types of devices. I also recommend you take time to review any articles and technology alerts for corrections. Previously, I alluded to some of the concerns we have with new technology and device. One area we need to improve upon, regardless of the technology is the human element and role to be played with the technology. There are many challenges being faced and previously never thought of; use of drones and security concerns. At the same time, there are only to be legal challenges to many statutes being written for use of new technology. Then we have to consider any constitutional amendment concerns as well. There is a great quote in the NIJ article I want to leave you with: Thomas Edison, “Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.”

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.

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