The average middle school student has an attention span of 10 minutes, and that must make you wonder: “How did they measure that?” Probably specialized eye-tracking software and facial twitch sensors, right? Weirdly enough, some schools are already beyond that. Educators are currently employing similar sensors and technologies to improve their students’ health and behavioral outcomes. Since sensor technologies have already improved the transportation, healthcare, and manufacturing sectors, it only makes sense that educators are looking to improve their schools with similar tools. However, America’s second greatest social institution—that of jails and prisons—has made nearly zero headway with sensor technology, due to an astonishingly low adoption rate. Still, it’s not too late for jails and prisons to make use of sensors. But before they do, they should learn these three lessons about the use of sensors and analytics, courtesy of the public education system.

1: Implement your sensors slowly

The first major lesson jails can learn from schools is to move slowly when it comes to sensor implementation. According to Benjamin Herold of, it has taken a decade for big data and analytics to creep into public education. This is partly due to technical limitations, but also because of ethical dogma. The system-wide changes that have already transformed the financial sector, healthcare, consumer technology, retail sales, and professional sports were only made possible because insiders moved diligently towards big data and analytics-based decision-making; not away from it. In the case of the incarceration industry, jail administrators should be aware that not everyone will be enthusiastic about sensor installations collecting large volumes of data on inmates. There will be critics. However, by pioneering these setups now, corrections officials will be laying the foundation for real innovations in the future. Moving slowly is the best approach.

2: Tailor your sensors to solve specific problems

The second major lesson jails can learn from schools is of a more practical nature. In general, elementary schools are usually surrounded by frantic drivers trying desperately to unload their kids and get to work on time. Researchers understood this problem, so they developed “a novel wireless sensor network application called School zone Safety System (S3) to help regulate the speed limit and to prevent illegal parking in school zones.”

S3 detects illegally parked vehicles, and warns the driver [via automated megaphone] and records the license plate number. To reduce the traveling speed of vehicles in a school zone,

S3 measures the speed of vehicles and displays the speed to the driver via an LED display, and also captures the image of the speeding vehicle with a speed camera. (Yoo, Chong & Kim, 2009).

The lesson here is to find where your facilities have room to improve, then base your sensor solutions on solving those problems. In the example above, schools knew they had vehicle problems, so they tailored their sensors to solve those problems. Jail administrators would be wise to do the same.

3: Sensor variety and coverage are essential

The third major lesson that the field of education can lend to corrections regards sensor integration. K- 5th-grade instructors constantly assess reading concentration rates in their students. To aid in this assessment process, researchers developed a reading monitoring system that combines information from e-books, webcams, heartbeat sensors, and blood oxygen sensors. Their findings indicated that the system they developed could help instructors create better teaching strategies to promote student learning motivation, class management, and peer discussions. Jail administrators should note how this study incorporated multiple variables from different sensing nodes to produce results that improved the overall classroom.

In fact, many other education-specific sensor studies incorporate multiple contributing factors into their results. With multiple sensor types, the following studies were able to:

Each of these studies relied upon multiple sensors to achieve results. This should make it clear to jails that only monitoring a single variable, like temperature, will be insufficient going forwards.

Concluding Thoughts on School Sensors

To conclude, consider this: Cisco predicted that worldwide “IoE in education has a 10-year net present value of US$175 billion, which will be delivered through streamlined and personalized instruction, and through the collection of data for making better decisions and reducing expenditure on instructional resources.” That kind of opportunity can’t be ignored, and the largest tech companies in the country are rising to the occasion. And if that’s the global market for sensors in education, just imagine what the numbers for the corrections industry look like.

Of course, there’s no use in only imagining the future; we as people need to work to make it a reality. For jail administrators, that means understanding the strides and missteps made by sister industries, including education. Thanks to the hard work of many teachers and researchers, jails have three, solid lessons to lean-on moving forward if they want the same improvements attainable with smart IOT sensors and big data analytics. And considering the decade it’s taken for schools to begin adopting sensor technology, if jails started today, it wouldn’t take long for them to catch up. Just don’t count on it taking less time than a middle-schooler’s attention span.

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