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Security & Technology
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 07/23/2018

Security 20110429 Our topic this month is ‘Security and Technology.’ We have seen technology development beneficial to corrections’ safety and security. Some positive steps have occurred with promising results. Yet, some negative aspects continue to draw attention. The overall safety and security of staff and offenders cannot be stressed enough. Our personnel are our most precious resource and must be in tune with technology for effectiveness. I will provide an overview of some current technological tools.

Technology and Offender Release

Offenders released after a period of time, experience some unique challenges possibly not considered before. Unfortunately, this also contributes to recidivism and the revolving door. Personally, I have not given much thought to this until recently conducting research. Are offenders really prepared to re-enter society. The following article was interesting: “How Prisons Can Use Tech to Slow Their Ever Revolving Doors,” by Mia Armstrong [1].

Some additional obstacles were presented and need to be considered; a person is incarcerated for a period of time and reenters society with limited technology and communication skills. This also includes various uses of social media. Some states have taken proactive steps to consider this and additional research is ongoing. Offenders’ families and community supervising agencies should find this information useful in identifying and also assisting offenders with employment searches, etc.

Scanners (Biometrics)

New Mexico Jails to Scan inmates’ eyes to verify identity [2]. This is another innovative use of technology in correctly identifying an inmate and ensuring at time of release that this is actually the person being released. This process can certainly be expanded and addresses many additional safety and security concerns. There are many related articles available for review related to use of Eye Scanners and other Biometric features. This includes information for other jails and prisons using scanners [3].

Along with the eye scanners, we can consider body scanners. Rikers Island is the latest correctional facility to consider use of body scanners. Legislation has been introduced to assist corrections with controlling violence throughout this prison. These are additional efforts to help control for items that otherwise go undetected. This presents safety and security concerns. The legislation “includes safeguards against the overuse of body scanning equipment including requirements for the operation of body scanner equipment relating to training of operators, limitations on exposure, registration and inspection requirements for body scanning equipment.” There are additional components to the bill for you to consider.

Something each agency needs to consider; the scanners were purchased and delivered, however, the corrections system learned this equipment could not be used since this had not been approved by legislation. Consequently, new legislation has been introduced [4], [5].


The following article demonstrates recent efforts to control for drones. Another very good technology and unfortunately used to breech safety and security. The “Feds ban drones over many Prisons, Coast Guard facilities"[6], [7]. These two articles present additional information and reasons for the ban.

Cell Phones

Cell phones and ongoing safety and security concerns. The following article; “Cellphone Jammer Illicit Calls by Prisoners, Mark Rockwell"[8]. and to supplement this article, I provided a link to the National Institute of Justice research: “Cell Phones in Prisons”[9] .

I saved this topic for last to use as a building stone. Technology has many additional uses besides those I discussed. As you know, technology has many positive and negative aspects.

Technology has provided time and again, many benefits to enhance safety and security. Yet, at the same time, some concerns continue to surface. We find technologies require the cost of equipment and training. This can also lead to researching state laws to identify if legislation is necessary prior to purchasing and implementation. Unfortunately, in many instances the legislation is determined after the fact. This can then lead to additional costs.

New technology continues to enter our world at a rapid pace and how thoroughly is this researched prior to implementation. Are we in a race to purchase and implement without having support and training in place? Do not get me wrong, technology has become a game changer in corrections. Yet, we continue to find technology is not always the answer. My point being, technology cannot replace an officer, or can it? I touched on the resources being spent toward technology, yet where is the investment in our staff? Training is required for much of the new technology and this technology may only be as effective as the operator. We continue to look at ways to enhance safety and security with little regard for the human element, ‘our staff.’ In some instances are our officers doing a, b, c, and d and not having to apply other critical skills. Do we even have enough officers on shift to use this technology? Are many of our community staff limited due to large caseloads? The list can continue, I think you get my point.

In addition to the integration of technology, we need to think about our officers. A great example in my opinion, and one we are often reluctant to discuss, how are the contraband cell phones still coming into the system with all of the high tech security we have in place. There are several possibilities and the major one being our staff. When staff continue to find ways to circumvent security and not be held accountable, improvements will continue to be lacking.

The next major area of importance is identifying inmates and staff with computer skills. Cyber- crimes are already here and what measures are in place to help control for securing our technology. Personally, I feel it’s just a matter of time before staff or inmates are able to breech security and computer security.

[1] https://slate.com/technology/2018/06/how-prisons-can-use-tech-to-help-reduce-recidivism.html
[2] https://www.google.com/search?q=MDC+to+Scan+Irises+to+Verify+Inmates%E2%80%99+Identities&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-1
[3] https://www.nij.gov/journals/253/pages/tracking.aspx
[4] http://observer.com/2015/06/body-scanners-sitting-unused-at-rikers-island-due-to-state-law/
[5] https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doc/downloads/press-release/Body_Scanners_Hand_Outs.pdf
[6] https://www.seattletimes.com/business/apxfeds-ban-drones-over-many-prisons-coast-guard-facilities/
[7] https://apnews.com/92a1fbfd7340471e97f6a32a3176b8ee
[8] https://gcn.com/articles/2018/06/19/cellphone-jammer-prison.aspx
[9] https://www.nij.gov/topics/corrections/institutional/contraband/Pages/cell-phones.aspx

Terry Campbell is a criminal justice professor at Purdue University Global 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@purdueglobal.edu.

Other articles by Campbell


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