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Correctional Insights

The Real Constituency Impact: Families Share the Burden

When a jail administrator sits down at the bargaining table to pick a new inmate phone service provider, it’s a daunting task. Hundreds of variables between dozens of companies must be considered, and after all is said and done, there’s virtually no recognition. But on the whole, jail administrators do a pretty good job at evaluating what companies present to them. Like any good public servant, they meticulously weigh the pros and cons of each provider to secure the most efficient solution for their county. Unfortunately, one critical factor is often lost in the noise surrounding inmate phone contracts and RFPs (requests for proposals): The costs passed on to inmate families.

These families have a hard lot in life. They are often already under significant pressure even before their loved one is incarcerated. Worse yet, the costs related to their inmate’s health lost wages, and communication falls squarely upon their shoulders. These are law-abiding citizens who cover these costs, paying capital out of their communities and into the corrections industry. At some point you’ve got to ask yourself: Does a higher commission rate justify that?

Who Pays for an Inmate’s Healthcare?

Healthcare is already a vast piece of the average family’s budget, but a single instance of illness can break bank accounts quickly. With that in mind, consider that incarceration facilities concentrate people with infectious and chronic diseases. While in jail or prison, inmates are covered by the state. But when a person is reintroduced to society after living in the superbug incubator that is an incarceration facility, they bring with them any number of health problems. According to researchers Nicholas Freudenberg, Jessie Daniels, Martha Crum, Tiffany Perkins, and Beth E. Richie, “people leaving jail may contribute to health inequities in the low-income communities to which they return.” After release, the most immediate point of contact for inmates is usually their family.

Just because inmate healthcare is covered by the state, that doesn’t mean families aren’t sending money to buy Tylenol or other incidental over-the-counter drugs from commissaries. These comfort/quality of life products can be an inmate’s only option when it comes to relieving their immediate pains. Meager prison wages can’t always cover the costs of such products, especially if an inmate uses them regularly. Thus, inmate families are again left footing the bill, in addition to the healthcare costs when their inmate returns home.

Who Pays for Depressed Economic Development?

It’s obvious that families lose income when a mother or father is incarcerated. However, the broad macroeconomics of the situation is less obvious. When a community supplies a large number of inmates to the corrections industry, “human capital in the community is generally depleted or in the case of the ex-offenders, developed in undesirable ways,” according to researchers Harold Watts and Demetra Smith Nightingale.

Significant reductions in a community’s labor force can lead to problems for area businesses, as well as decreased revenue for inmate families. None of that is right for economic development. When local companies struggle, it can strain the community as a whole. So in addition to spending more to support their loved ones in jail, the families of inmates are losing money in the form of lost productivity and a potentially worsened economic environment.

Who Really Pays for Inmate Phone Services

In the corrections industry, contact between inmates and their families is frequently touted as a recidivism-reducing force. But there’s a flip side to that: according to Cheryl Leanza, “[t]he costs of telephone calls to incarcerated people in the United States are often extraordinarily high—well beyond what most people in our country pay for telephone service. It is often cheaper to call Singapore at 12 cents a minute from a cell phone than it is to speak to someone in prison or jail.” These high rates are usually the result of inmate phone contracts with oversized commission percentages, not to mention the outrageous fees charged by some inmate phone providers.

“The high rates are a terrible burden on the friends and family members of incarcerated people—who often have to choose between basic needs and communication with someone they love. And the high telephone rates undermine social networks that can help inmates reintegrate into society,” as Leanza goes on to state. All of this is counterproductive to the goal of reducing recidivism, and unfortunately is standard practice for most inmate phone providers. Once again, the families of inmates pay for these inflated service costs.

Conclusion

There has to be a better way for jails and prisons to provide inmate calling services to constituents. Make no mistake, inmate families are the end consumers here. They are the tax-paying community members who just want the ability to speak with their incarcerated loved ones. Families already bear additional health and labor costs, not to mention the psychological stress involved with missing a family member—after all this, they shouldn’t be left to the mercy of inmate phone companies.

However, in this area jail administrators can make a huge difference, because they’re the ones sitting at the bargaining table. Jail administrators can ensure that exorbitant costs aren’t passed on to their constituents. They hold all the power in the phone contract relationship. If a jail administrator says “Jump” inmate phone companies ask “How high?” Enormous economic relief for hundreds of the most vulnerable inmate families across a constituency could be as simple as switching providers.

Ultimately, it all comes down to this: The highest commission rate shouldn’t be the determining factor when selecting a new inmate phone company. When it is, inmate families pay the price.

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Correctional Insights

What Manufacturing Sensors can Teach U.S. Corrections

From birth through adolescence, American citizens ride a metaphorical conveyor belt designed to calibrate behavior and prepare them for modern life. That conveyor belt is better-known as acculturation, and while it might seem outrageous to think of people as being constructed in the same way that cars and cell phones are produced, it really isn’t too much of a logical stretch. Recently, however, the manufacturing industry has progressed much faster than the social institutions building America’s future citizens. Companies have recognized the extraordinary potential that sensors can have in improving management, efficiency, and safety, and yet the average American jail currently ignores these sensors. JMS systems have helped bring jails into the present, no question, but if jail administrators want to reap the same benefits as modern factories, they should start by learning from the manufacturing sensors they employ:

What Manufacturing Sensors can Teach Smart Jails About Management

Whether it’s in a GM factory in Arlington, TX or a county jail in Springfield, MO, good management requires the most-relevant, up-to-date information. To this end, some manufacturing facilities have installed sensors with the ability to automatically notify facility managers of production anomalies that threaten process and quality standards. This means that anytime a sensor detects an anomaly in the assembly line like a malfunctioning robot or suboptimal atmospheric condition, managers are immediately informed on their smart phone.

This kind of immediate response technology is critical for companies like GM, who use sensors to monitor humidity conditions during vehicle painting. However, sensors that respond immediately could also be highly effective in jails, since negative behavioral events can happen in the blink of an eye, and proper planning and reaction time is critical.

What Manufacturing Sensors can Teach Smart Jails About Efficiency

Sensors improve manufacturing efficiency in a number of different ways. For instance, the pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck relies on smart sensing technology to conduct 15 billion environmental and process calculations to improve the vaccines they produce. There is simply no way all that work could be done by hand in a timely manner.

Additionally, food and beverage processors apply smart labels to incoming shipments when they are received, or even before they leave their point of origin. Because of this, metrics such as temperature, freshness, and expiration timelines can be tracked by the processors, ensuring spoiled food never makes it to a grocer.

Regional jails with inmates from multiple counties could make use of similar sensors and labels, since they have large inmate influxes from varying origin points. Ideally, a smart jail should strive to make the transition of prisoners between facilities as seamless as possible, with the least number of human inputs. And at the very least, these sensors and labels could be utilized by commissaries and kitchens looking to improve their food safety.

What Manufacturing Sensors can Teach Smart Jails About Safety

Jails are not thought of as safe places, it’s the nature of the institution. But neither were factories at the turn of the industrial revolution. The manufacturing industry has come a long way since then, and most current facilities employ sensors to increase occupational safety. According to Automotive Design & Production editor Lawrence Gould:

“Industrial safety sensors are a requirement from both a regulatory and liability standpoint. It also makes sense (no pun intended) economically: Sensors protect the investments companies make in people and machines on the manufacturing floor.”

If sensors can protect the investments companies make in their people and machines, those sensors should also be able to protect investments made in the correctional space. For example, motion sensors or accelerometers could trigger alarms and inform jail administrators when facility equipment is being tampered with. Noise sensors could also be used to keep track of vandalism, by recording and time-stamping exact instances of property destruction.

Conclusion

To sum all this up, the same sensor technologies and strategies already in place in the manufacturing sector could be a massive boon to U.S. correctional facilities. Smart IOT sensors have the potential to enhance jail management, efficiency, and safety through accurate real-time monitoring and data collection, as described in the examples above. However, the real reason incarceration officials should be striving for smart jails is the fact that improvement in any of these areas will ultimately be felt in the daily lives of their prisoners and inmates. Making life on the inside less volatile should be a principle goal of every warden. And while smart sensors may make for a powerful corrections tool, without the vision and dedication of the incarceration official, the whole facility will grind to a halt. Just like a broken conveyor belt.

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Correctional Insights

What Jails can Learn About Sensor Installations From Schools

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 edweek.org, 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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Correctional Insights

The Musical Chord of Incarceration and Music Therapy

Music is a powerful and timeless stimulant, uniting body and mind in rhythm. Eliciting strong memories, it can be used as a therapeutic method to deal with stress, reshape behavior and encourage emotional development. In the 2011 movie, The Music Never Stopped, estranged son Gabriel is no longer able to form new memories due to a brain tumor. His father, Henry, seeks help and reunites with his son through musical therapy. Father and son are able to enjoy a relationship again while listening to the Grateful Dead because of the memories the sounds invokes for Gabriel. In real life, music therapy is used in a variety of settings, and some jails and prisons have incorporated it in an effort to rehabilitate offenders of all ages. Learn how music therapy can be used in prison reform to help achieve civil behavior both inside and outside the prison walls.

What is Music Therapy?

According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), music therapy is the “clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” It can be used to improve:

  • Emotional development
  • Social skills
  • Cognitive functioning
  • Motor skills

Therapy methods can include:

  • Listening to songs
  • Singing alone or with a group
  • Playing instruments
  • Dance and movement

How Music Therapy Can Help Inmates

Inmates represent all ages, races, and backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common: memories associated with music. Because incarcerated populations experience a variety of behavioral, social, psychological and communicative challenges, music therapy can strike the right chord to connect the notes and create positive change for multiple needs simultaneously. Research has shown that anxiety was reduced in participating inmates after only two weeks of music therapy.

Just as music can assist in physical rehabilitation, it can also mark time in the prison setting to sculpt cognitive and behavioral rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is facilitated through memory when inmates hear the songs they remember from their lives before prison. The therapist understands that these memories may not all be positive and can use negative reactions to provoke discussions and encourage change. Harmonies experienced for the first time, or created by the inmates themselves, can be used to counter negative behavior and thought patterns and introduce new positive ones.

Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) can help with memory training through a variety of techniques:

  • Echoic Mnemonics Training works with memory recall and the senses registered by the memories.
  • Procedural Mnemonics develops an understanding of rules and the skills necessary to abide by them.
  • Declarative Mnemonics deals with episodic memories.
  • Associative Mood and Memory Training helps identify moods and how they shape behavior.

By identifying mood and behavior, the inmate and therapist can work together to rewrite responses so the inmate can function as a law-abiding citizen. Some specific goals in correctional facilities that are encouraged by the AMTA include:

  • Increasing self-awareness
  • Improving reality testing and problem-solving skills
  • Improving respect for others, including peers and authority figures
  • Developing healthy verbal and non-verbal communication skills
  • Decreasing impulsiveness through practical techniques
  • Accepting responsibility for thoughts and feelings
  • Learning relaxation and coping skills
  • Improving physical conditioning
  • Developing effective leisure skills
  • Exploring feelings and making positive changes in mood states

Additionally, many inmates battle with drug addiction and psychological disorders. Music therapy may also assist in specialized rehab treatment in these cases. For inmates with substance abuse problems and mental health problems, this kind of therapy can provide treatment in the five stages of diagnostic treatment:

  1. Engagement
  2. Crisis intervention
  3. Stabilization
  4. Active treatment
  5. Recovery

The Down Beat

Like any therapeutic treatment, the outcome depends not only on the expertise of the practitioner but also the willingness of the patient to make the necessary changes to achieve his or her goals. Multiple factors determine the effectiveness of any therapy, including music therapy:

  • Age, gender and socioeconomic background of the offender
  • Cognitive, physical, emotional and psychological state of the offender
  • Amount of time spent in correctional facilities
  • Degree of connection with family, friends, and community
  • Social pressures to conform or not conform to the environment
  • Substance, physical, sexual or emotional abuse

Some offenders may not respond to music, or they may respond negatively due to negative memories elicited by it. Although a well-trained therapist will have proven techniques at his or her disposal to counter negative responses, the final responsibility lies with the inmate to change the response to a positive one.

Another downside to music therapy is the effect of “escaping reality.” Although this can be a positive result and help the inmate feel empowered to make the necessary changes in life, it can also have negative effects. If not carefully monitored, the freedom factor of music may empower the inmate to revolt against the pressures of conformity and choose to revert back to a life of crime. Careful documentation of every inmate’s progress may or may not alert practitioners to this circumstance.

Music is a universal language that can be used and enjoyed in many ways. With the help of qualified therapists, prison reform may be possible for some inmates. Only time will tell.

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Correctional Insights

The Behavioral Effects of Content

The Internet has drastically changed people’s behavior, from their work duties to how they make purchases. Content plays a major role in these behavioral changes, as people now have access to an unending stream of information. Millions of content pieces are created every day, from online articles to social media posts. Understanding the behavioral and intellectual effects of content in the modern age requires taking a look at the way things were during the pre-Internet era.

Knowledge Accessibility before the Internet

The Internet existed in the 1980s, but it took over a decade before it started to come into its own. Educational content was available through encyclopedias, books, magazines, television shows, documentaries, classes, and schools. Content accessibility was difficult for several reasons, depending on the medium the piece was contained in. For example, academic papers were only accessible through professional groups, colleges, and expensive academic journals.

If a reader wondered about a different point of view for a content piece, it wasn’t easy to find additional perspectives. The library provided one potential avenue for research, but specialized topic areas could be difficult to find. Tracking down transcripts of workshops, videos on the subject or subject matter experts required a lot of mailing and calling to potentially get an answer. The reader may have had to wait months or years to hear back on any inquiries. Fact checking and expanding topic information proved to be quite difficult.

The Internet Content Bombardment

The Internet started taking off in the ’90s as computer equipment became more accessible and businesses began to create web presences. Websites were not always easy to find when the Internet started establishing itself, especially before search engines existed. Once Google and other search engines and web directories began cataloging the Internet though, information became much easier to find.

Today’s Internet has over one billion websites. Blogs, social network sites, and forums have millions of users generating an endless stream of content. Businesses use content marketing and other content-heavy strategies to attract audiences and customers. The sheer amount of content available has several effects on reader behavior and education.

Buyer Behavior Changes

One major change due to content accessibility is typical buyer behavior. Before the Internet, a business controlled most of the pre-sales content process. Buyers could reach out to colleagues, friends, and family for word-of-mouth recommendations, but all other information came directly from the business. Today, buyers have a wide range of resources to consult before reaching out to a company. They can look at business reviews online, find multiple content sources to double-check pre-sales information and have broad social networks available for finding out personal experiences with a product or service.

This information allows buyers to seek out unbiased perspectives on the business. In many cases, buyers have conducted significant research into the products and services they want to buy well before reaching out to a specific company. The business content has shifted from purely promotional content to more educational assets, intended to deliver value for customers who have many business choices. This shift also works out well for businesses, as they get better-educated buyers when they connect with the company. The amount of time the sales and support team spends with buyers is significantly decreased, and many buyers seek out self-help resources before involving the company. Quick and convenient support options lead to a better customer experience, and it’s made possible by content.

Always Available Connectivity

Extensive broadband Internet penetration and expanding mobile data networks provide always available Internet connectivity. Information is a click away at all time, which provides significant opportunities for intellectual development. Smartphones make it easy to read content throughout the day during short free moments standing in line, waiting in between tasks and other activities.

Another behavioral effect of so much content is higher expectations from readers. They don’t want any content thrown their way since they have so many options to choose from. Instead, they want high quality and valuable content that helps enrich their lives in some way.

Many new content formats are available in a digital format, which provides multiple ways to learn new information. Text, visual and step-by-step learning options are available in these formats. Video streaming sites have provided an especially useful resource for people who are visual learners and prefer to watch videos instead of reading through the text.

Effects of Content and Modern Disengagement

Content is more accessible today, but it also runs the risk of leading to completely disengaged people. When there’s so much content available, just a click away, people spend a lot of their time engaging with the content instead of each other. With smartphones becoming more prevalent and powerful, people also don’t have any time where they’re not instantly connected. Creating, sharing, and engaging with content becomes the focus instead of the real-life experience, as many people experience when they’re waiting to eat while their friends snap pictures of a meal to post on Facebook and Instagram. Balancing content accessibility with keeping people present and in the moment is a major cultural issue globally.

The change from content before the Internet compared to the Internet era is striking. People have access to a never-ending stream of information that provides more informed readers than ever before. However, the amount of content can work against it due to the ease of content publishing. High-quality content sources offer significant educational opportunities, but readers need to take the time to seek out accurate information. The cultural impact of mass quantities of content is also a puzzle that needs to be addressed before it leads to people living lives entirely through their smartphones.