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Smart Jail Technology

What You Should Know About
Correctional Technology

Between iPhone facial recognition and Amazon drone delivery, it seems there isn’t a task that technology can’t tackle. The era of electronics has officially dawned on us, and it’s imperative to stay up-to-date with the ever-changing and advancing tech world. Although many industries have managed to board the “tech-train,” part of our society is still technologically stranded.

To be precise, many of our nation’s jails and prisons have failed to capitalize on correctional technology. Although overcoming this nationwide lapse remains a work in progress, some individual facilities have positioned themselves as early-adopters of innovation. To the amazement of everyone else, the jail administrators in charge of these facilities are redefining how modern correctional institutions use technology.

Trend Setters

In recent years, some facilities have employed correctional technology to change the way they run their prisons. From inmate tablets, to RFID wristbands, to infrared body temperature monitoring, these facilities are way ahead of the game in terms of testing innovative solutions. These technologies aren’t just for show, either.

According to an article written by Melissa Mann, the benefits of providing tablets to inmates include increased officer safety, improved inmate behavior and extra revenue for the facility. Sure, the idea of gifting pricey electronic tablet devices to incarcerated individuals may initially seem preposterous.

Why should we spend more money on prisons and those who inhabit them? One answer is that the immense potential to change inmate behavior in a positive manner justifies the investment. Not to mention that the amount of money spent on this technology is minuscule in comparison to the money the correctional facilities, the state, and society as a whole will save in the long run.

One of the few agencies that have adopted this approach is Canyon County, Idaho. Their facility made 10 tablets open for inmate use, with the option to research legal matters on the devices for free, as well as paid access to videos, messaging and games (on a per-minute rate).

Santa Cruz County, California has followed suit and implemented a tablet testing trial with some success. Melissa Mann’s article brought up the fact that “studies show education decreases recidivism rates about 43 percent, so the utilization of free time for educational purposes shouldn’t be a difficult choice for jail administrators when deciding daily schedules for their facilities.” These technologies correct unwanted behavior, and even prepare inmates for life on the outside.

A More Productive Prison

The potential for correctional technology is vast. For instance, look at the positive impact that RFID wristbands could have on correctional facilities and staff. These wristbands can be used as a tracking system, allowing officers to monitor inmates and even alleviate and prevent troublesome situations. This innovative approach has already been implemented in correctional facilities in California, Virginia, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Minnesota.

Minnesota Department of Corrections assistant commissioner David Crist had the following to say regarding this technology’s impact on security at his facility: “Because they have no secure fence around their living area — because it’s minimum security — they have the opportunity to leave illegally if they choose to, and we want to prevent that from happening.” Another benefit of this system is how it simplifies the investigation process. Computers linked to the RFID system can locate exactly where an inmate is or was, eliminating the need to rely on unreliable witnesses.

RFID technology is pretty impressive, right? Well, prepare for the potential of infrared body temperature monitoring to further astound you. Due to the shortcomings of traditional facility monitoring systems, some correctional facilities have explored the idea of monitoring the physical presence of inmates to detect and predict behavior.

According to research by the DSTA Horizons, these Infrared Fever Screening Systems (IFss) are being employed in many different areas, and are “designed from a total system engineering perspective, i.e. taking into consideration thermal imager specifications, human body and skin temperature physiology, human traffic flow and environmental conditions.” Talk about a technology that does it all! This type of equipment would prove especially useful in correctional facilities to track inmate motion, specifically at night when your typical security camera may have a hard time creating a clear picture.

Correctional Technology Conclusions

In our world of smart cars and smart phones, it’s important that we extract everything we can from our electronic infrastructure. The benefits of correctional technology increase by the day and are proving more and more valuable, as many facilities are beginning to find. As these solutions improve, there will come a time when these optional facility upgrades are no longer optional.

Is your facility prepared for the modern age of corrections?

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Smart Jail Technology

Tablets for Inmates
Aren’t Good Enough Yet

Ever since the advent of the portable tablet, the pace of mobile technology has only accelerated. Today, one person anywhere in the world can talk to another over a live video stream or a recorded message.

Endless knowledge is at users’ fingertips. Searching for answers to questions no longer requires driving to a library or finding a book. Nowadays, the books come to you, and you can hold thousands in the palm of your hand.

The American criminal justice system has only just begun to embrace the burgeoning market of portable devices by supplying inmates with tablets, but so far, the attempts have been underwhelming.

Why Provide Tablets for Inmates?

There are many different kinds of tablets currently available at correctional facilities, but they usually do the same sorts of things. Each tablet has filters to block unwanted websites access, while providing inmates the option to pay for digital goods like music, movies, games, and communication services.

Certain inmate tablet devices offer different uses, including an outbound phone system, law library, job search, educational assistance, podcasts, music, games, ebooks, and religious and inmate services.

Others offer similar apps but promote their tablets as a way for facilities to reduce paper usage. Some even produce multiple tablet hardware formats for inmates and facilities to choose between.

However, like most applications and devices, they are not without their faults.

Poor App Reviews

For example, of the 500 apple store reviews for a single inmate communication app, most are one-star. The primary complaints involve the app freezing, showing false notifications and dropping video streams. The poor reviews only get worse from there.

Google play store reviews for another inmate communication app include problems ranging from app download failures, to username and password issues, video lag and poorly tested app updates.

This is a prioritization issue. Inmate tablet vendors are rushing out to develop new, mobile device platforms for inmates even though they can’t get the customer-facing software to run stably. It’s a little bit like putting the cart before the horse. In order for inmate tablets to be viable, there has to be a functional customer-facing infrastructure in place. Yet poor consumer apps are only part of the problem.

Unproven Rehabilitation Claims

According to certain tablet providers, their tablets assist not only inmates but also the staff in correctional facilities. These providers claim that tablets can help in five ways: by improving the facility, improving safety, improving productivity, providing opportunities for post-incarceration employment, and decreasing recidivism.

That’s all good and well, except these tablet providers have produced no substantive evidence that tablet devices do any of these things. Jail administrators need real solutions based on real data, not conjecture. At the very least, inmate tablet case studies need three things:

  1. A baseline safety/productivity/recidivism rate before tablets were introduced to a facility
  2. A statistically significant sample size to protect against data manipulation
  3. A positive change over time against the baseline rate, in order to prove tablets work

In addition to better case study information, the free tablet business model is in need of repair. By pricing apps and entertainment/educational content, the individual inmate is discouraged from using every feature of a device.

Nobody likes being nickeled and dimed for anything, especially at the inflated prices most tablet providers charge for movies, music and games. Then again, how else are those tablet vendors expected to get a return for the $100+ investments they gave away to every inmate? The free tablet model doesn’t align with inmate rehabilitation.

Improving the Inmate Tablet

Everything can be improved. Products can use higher quality materials, be more efficient to transport or include better customer service—but research based on user experience is paramount. Right now, inmate tablets are in desperate need of those perspectives.

While every business should strive towards a profit, focusing on profit potential rather than product functionality can only lead to disaster. A business that provides low-quality tablets to inmates while charging high prices for content can only survive for so long.

As vendors, we all need to be better than this. Improving service by absorbing customer feedback is business 101.

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Smart Jail Technology

What is a Smart Jail?

Smart phones, smart watches, smart speakers, smart TVs, smart dish washers— It makes you wonder why we ever bothered making dumb products to begin with. Every year, more and more of these smart devices hit the market. But in the last decade since the phrase “Internet of Things” was termed, the concept never really made it to forefront of community-based law enforcement: The County Jail. Encartele aims to change that. By bringing the best features of smart devices to smaller correctional facilities, we mean to make the smart jail a nationwide reality.

But what makes a jail smart? Is it some combination of gadgets, WiFi hotspots, and robot vacuum cleaners? Not at all. In actuality, there are five key attributes that make up a smart jail: Autonomy, Interconnectivity, Passivity, Control, and Analytics. In the following paragraphs, we’ll break down how each of these concepts apply to county jails.

Autonomy

Earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions, and social unrest can’t be allowed to influence the day-to-day operations of a jail, especially if those disasters are happening in far-off places. A smart jail needs to be semi-autonomous if it’s going to rely on technological solutions. This means that the software and hardware inside a jail shouldn’t be overly reliant on external vendors or licenses. When multiple third-parties are introduced into the jail technology mix, that means there will be more break-points for critical functions. Limiting break-points is a foundational pillar of the corrections field.

a smart jail floating up above a bunch of natural disasters.

Interconnectivity

Just because the critical functions of a smart jail are managed with an iron grip doesn’t mean other software and hardware implementations should be ignored. A smart jail should welcome integrations with numerous vendors to supply the best-possible services to inmates and their friends and families. But more than that, the technologies inside a smart jail should work in concert. The digital signage should change based on what inmates talk about over the phone; video visitation and video arraignment applications should track the same kinds of computer glitches; and jail-environment sensors should warn kiosk devices when temperature/humidity could affect hardware performance.

Passivity

Smart jails should have functions which are easy to operate, sure, but functions which operate on their own in the background are even more beneficial. It’s nice to be able to run a video visitation usage report whenever you want to, but it’s even better to receive a video visitation report every Monday without lifting a finger. “There’s a lot of automation that can happen that isn’t a replacement of humans but of mind-numbing behavior,” and that’s exactly what we’re aiming for. Automate what can be automated, and let the corrections professionals get back to work.

Control

C’mon, you had to know this would make the list. For an institutional system DEFINED by its ability to control the movements and habits of its inmates, control is paramount. The smart jail is no different. Absolute facility control goes hand-in-hand with absolute system control, and smart jail administrators must have the biggest ring of keys when it comes to their technology. In itself, this is a relatively simple goal to accomplish, until you consider the realities of organizational management. Should the jail administrator be the only person who can process and review inmate commissary requests? Hell no! That’s why the smart jail makes delegation a priority, while the administrators maintain total control.

Analytics

Some problems are too large to be solved with gut instinct alone. Worsening mental health, recidivism, and post-incarceration outcomes for inmates are enormous problems. Without the proper information, society doesn’t stand a chance at solving them. However, smart jails can provide the proper data, or at least part of it. Technological innovations allow us to generate metrics for anything we can dream of. Want to know how likely an inmate is to commit another crime upon release? Want to know which state facilities are the most at-risk for inciting a riot? A smart jail can provide that information. With the insights provided by accurate, predictive analytics, law enforcement and correctional officials will have the ability to enact criminal justice reform from the ground up.

Final Thoughts on the Smart Jail

Big or small, any jail can become a smart jail. These attributes don’t depend on bed size or the population of your county, they depend on a correctional official’s willingness to grow. Building a smart jail is not a risk-free, passive, sit-on-the-couch-and-make-tons-of-money venture. You’ve got to be committed to excellence (and no one better fits that description than jail administrators). Naysayers are going to say nay, but making the world a better place is not for the faint of heart. Nationwide criminal justice reform is possible, and smart jails will be driving that change.

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Smart Jail Technology

What Smart Jails can Learn
From Hospital Sensors

American hospitals are fantastic hubs of innovation. These facilities combine well-trained staff with some of the newest technologies available to ensure patients receive the best possible care. Recently, healthcare facilities have even begun to use specialized hospital sensors to improve health outcomes and overall building efficiency.

Right now, the corrections industry stands to do the same thing. With sensors based on those already operating within hospitals, prisoner rehabilitation and facility efficiency could be expanded in jails and prisons. Here are a few examples of how hospitals already use smart sensors, and how they could be applied in the corrections industry.

Hospital Sensors Monitoring Beds

Bedsores are a significant problem for patients dealing with spinal cord injuries. Because these patients have no feeling or control over their lower extremities, they rely on hospital staff to physically rotate their bodies at regular intervals. To combat the inefficiency of this process, researchers have developed smart mattresses with embedded sensors that can detect the formation of bedsores on patients before they become problematic. This system is useful in diagnosing both the patient’s problem their tactile response, and in practice, using it improves rehabilitation and prevents decubitus ulcers during hospital stays.

Similar sensor technologies and smart beds could be useful to the corrections industry as well. By monitoring the sleep patterns of an inmate population, jail administrators could gain a better understanding of the stressors affecting prisoners in their daily lives. This is particularly important since those stressors are often among the root causes of negative behaviors.

For example, if one cell block is experiencing sleep interruptions on a regular basis, those prisoners may become irritable and less cooperative with staff. With smart bed sensors in place, however, a jail administrator could learn about this sleep-interruption problem via computer notification, rather than after a violent outburst.

Hospital Sensors Monitoring Vents

Hospitals have been wary of low-quality air ever since miasma was a concept. Ten years ago, researchers were already calling for smart sensors in waiting room ventilation ducts to monitor the air and detect airborne diseases. Today, hospitals actively utilize the air itself to prevent diseases from entering or leaving special isolation rooms. According to allsensors.com:

Infectious diseases and chronically ill patients require special air handling equipment in hospital isolation rooms. The isolation could dictate either positive or negative pressure in the room.

An isolation room at negative pressure has a lower pressure than that of adjacent areas. This keeps air from flowing out of the isolation room and into adjacent rooms or areas. In contrast, higher (positive) air pressure in the isolation room than in the adjoining corridor or anteroom prevents transmission from the outside environment to severely immunosuppressed patients.

These applications would be impossible without sensors monitoring a hospital’s air supply. In addition to that, similar sensors could be used by the corrections industry to solve inmate behavioral problems, some of which stem from poor air quality or varying atmospheric pressure. If a jail administrator knows low-quality air increases anxiety in inmates, sensors that monitor air quality could act as early-warning systems that predict mood swings in prisoner populations.

Hospital Sensors Monitoring Assets

Since hospitals are always buzzing with highly mobile staff and equipment, it’s challenging to keep accurate records of equipment use, sterilization, and maintenance. Even one missed cleaning cycle can mean big consequences for individual patients. To solve this problem, some hospitals have employed sensors that collect RTLS (real-time location system) data on these healthcare assets. Thanks to these sensors, “organizations are able to eliminate the need for staff to monitor and report manually, and can even send automated cleaning or service alerts to the appropriate teams,” according to Joel Cook, the Senior Director of Healthcare Solutions for Stanley Healthcare.

Jails have comparable asset management problems. For instance, everything from staff radios to prisoner bathroom fixtures requires periodic up-keep and maintenance. However, tracking all these asset maintenance checks is a chore. With a little bit of reverse-engineering, the same sensors that collect RTLS data for healthcare assets could be employed by jail administrators to predict everything from pipe failures to broken phone handsets. And since the system is autonomously maintained (just like the healthcare system is), there’s no manual data entry to slow things down administratively.

Conclusion

To wrap everything up, it should be evident how helpful the healthcare industry can be to corrections when it comes to IOT sensor innovation. Hospitals across the county already benefit widely from sensors that monitor patient health, air quality, and asset maintenance status, and there’s no reason jails can’t enjoy these efficiencies as well. But to share in these improvements, jail administrators must employ the proper sensors to meet the specific needs of their facilities.

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Smart Jail Technology

Before They’re Even Turned on, Jail
Sensors can Improve Inmate Behavior

Have you ever ignored a red light when nobody was around? Ever skipped washing your hands after returning from your lunch break? Don’t worry your secret is safe with me. But consider this: Would you have done the same if you knew someone was watching you? It seems like a no-brainer, but being observed changes human behavior—and it’s about time jails took advantage of that. If jails and prisons are genuinely meant to function as both rehabilitation and penal facilities, they need to meaningfully alter the antisocial behaviors of their inmates. And judging by current U.S. recidivism rates, significant behavioral alterations are not happening. The question is, how do we change that? It’s time for jails and prisons to consider new behavioral modification options, options that can educate inmates rather than offer them a carrot-stick dichotomy. It’s time to implement jail sensors directly into correctional security architecture.

Noise, air quality, atmospheric pressure, temperature, and humidity are all environmental factors that directly affect human behavior. By keeping track of these variables, facilities can modify their environments to reduce prisoner volatility. In fact, one additional benefit of jail sensors is that they alter human behavior even without being active. This is because the mere presence of monitoring devices in social spaces has an effect on human behavior. Examples of sensors influencing internet usage, stadium behavior, and work ethic/productivity are detailed below, to support this fact.

Internet Usage

In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Muslim Americans grew increasingly concerned that their law-abiding internet activities were being monitored by the U.S. government. According to work done by Professor Dawinder S. Sidhu: “Muslim-Americans not only believe the government monitors their routine activities, but that such concerns have translated into actual changes in daily behavior.” This article proves that merely the perception of being monitored is enough to elicit a behavioral response in a population. For jail administrators, that feeling of being watched would accompany the installation of new monitoring devices. So even if these jail sensors were (wastefully) never switched on, the inmates within a monitored facility would still be conscious of their presence, and that, as Sidhu proved, would be enough to alter behavior.

Stadium Behavior

The grandstands in Swedish football arenas are notoriously rife with rowdy fans, not unlike football stadiums everywhere. However, the results of research conducted by Mikael Priks of Stockholm University shows “that there was much less unruly behavior inside stadiums when surveillance cameras were used compared to the games when they were not used. The various specifications reveal that the reduction was at least 65 percent.” According to Priks, prominent monitoring devices in stadiums reduced negative attendee conduct. If jail administrators used similar device setups, it’s possible that they could also see net decreases in negative inmate conduct.

Work Ethic/Productivity

In an attempt to increase performance, decrease abuses and waste, and control undesirable employee behaviors, businesses have implemented a variety of electronic monitoring devices, according to researchers Sherri Coultrup and Patrick Fountain. These devices capture computer keystrokes, listen in on phone calls, and record video surveillance; all in an attempt to minimize costs associated with employee misconduct. In all honesty, there’s no reason for jail administrators to implement keystroke monitoring. But it would be in their best interests to cultivate an environment of surveillance that actively de-incentivizes negative behavior. And for that, jail sensors are a perfect tool.

Final Thoughts on Jail Sensors

This strategy of using monitoring devices to influence human decision-making is nothing new. In fact, there’s even a name for the concept behind it: reactivity. In the wrong context, responsiveness can be destructive. Psychological research studies often try to cut this variable out of their findings, and big-brother-esque social control theories are based on this concept is a given. The Muslim-American Internet study above is proof enough of that.

However, just because there is an excellent potential for abuse doesn’t eliminate the good this strategy can do in the right situation. Reactivity, sensors, jails—whether they harm or help society depends entirely upon how they are used. For evidence of that, just look to the above examples of stadiums and businesses. In the correct setting, smart, environmental sensors can do amazing things, and jails and prisons are the correct settings.