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Tips & Facts

Is Technology Hurting Us?
Human Nature According to Wall-E

Ever worry that your toaster might decide it’s tired of eating bread, grow fangs, and come after you in the quiet of night?

Maybe not. But the idea of new technology hurting us is a concept which humanity has been discussing since Frankenstein’s monster in the early 1800’s. More recently, films like The Terminator (1984) and The Matrix (1999) which feature machines dominating the future human race, have continued to boom with popularity, and it’s easy to see why. Technology continues to develop at an astonishing rate, and many people feel left behind.

I can hear you saying: “Wait just a second friend! I really like my toaster!”

Don’t worry. We probably don’t need to fret about being subservient to robot overlords. There are simpler, more realistic concerns worth discussing when it comes to our evolving tech world. The 2008 Pixar film, WALL-E, displays a subtler version of the future, one where we may find technology hurting us in less obvious ways, but its similarity to current reality may be more startling than Arnold Schwarzenegger pushing an Uzi in your face.

Is Technology Hurting Us?

In WALL-E, the humans of the future are portrayed as obese mindless consumers on an endless cruise in outer space. They sit complacent in automated chairs, and their technology habits keep them sedated and disengaged from the world around them, aside from drinking a food-like substance out of a straw.

They remain continuously plugged into a virtual world, to the point where people are communicating with each other through the holographic screens in front of them, even while sitting directly next to each other. They spend their time with technology frivolously; playing virtual games and socializing with people they never see face-to-face. Meanwhile, the Earth below lies in ruin, and no one has any desire to try to revive it.

It would be nice to shake-off a film like this as mere fiction, but when looking at the habits of humans today, it isn’t hard to see our current technology hurting us:

  • The obesity rate in America is the highest in the world, and that number continues to rise. According to Public Health there are a few reasons for the obesity problem in America. Rises in fast food sales correlate to a rise in body mass index, and Americans have a love affair with those greasy, paper bags that are often eaten on the go and/or in the car, eerily similar to the quick and easy “Food-In-A-Cup” from WALL-E. Fast food makes up about 11 percent of the average American diet. Other studies note that added sugars from soda and energy drinks continue to expand American waistlines. Inactivity is also one of the major reasons for the rise of obesity. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), nearly 80 percent of adult Americans do not get the recommended amounts of exercise they need each week. Along with changing job activities, a growing consensus as to the reason for inactivity in Americans has to do with technology.
  • According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in January 2018, because of the increased use of tablets and smartphones, 26 percent of American adults admitted that they go online “almost constantly.” That number is up from 21 percent in 2015. The research also indicated that 77 percent of Americans go online daily. The term phubbing (snubbing others in favor of your phone) isn’t going away anytime soon.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics, in 2011, estimated that the average child often spends up to seven hours every day watching television, browsing the internet or playing video games. The same article shows that there are “unhealthy eating practices learned from both the programming and the advertisements for unhealthy foods.” The effectiveness of advertising today has made startling progression: beginning with ad men like Don Draper, selling house appliances and cigarettes by taking advantage of humanity’s primal desires, and developing into the sophisticated targeted advertising now used as companies have access to people’s browser and purchase histories. The sedentary lifestyles learned at this young age through unhealthy relations with technology stay with the children into adulthood, and the advertisements only get more advanced.

WALL-E Infographic

These bad technology habits are glaring us in the face. If we don’t want to live in a society like the dystopia of WALL-E, then it is important that we look at what we can do to change our technology habits, so that rather than being controlled by evolving technology, we control it.

According to a 2018 Independent Task Force report sponsored by the (CFR) Council on Foreign Relations, “Accelerating technological change will alter or eliminate many human jobs. Although many new jobs will be created, the higher-paying ones will require greater levels of education and training. In the absence of mitigating policies, automation and artificial intelligence are likely to exacerbate inequality and leave more Americans behind.”

Good Technology Habits

So, with all of those scary statistics, you may now be wondering if your toaster really is out to get you. Again, don’t fret! Even as we find ourselves engulfed by the tech world, we can develop plenty of good habits to help keep our minds sharp, and not live with the apprehension of technology hurting us.

In education, the use of technology is no longer a convenience, it is a necessity. Employers expect new hires to be well-trained in using relevant technologies. According to a 2017 article in the Pediatrics Child Health journal put forth by the Oxford University Press, early research indicates that certain technology habits help children retain taught information more effectively.

The AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) bulletin reported research which shows that younger brains can process information more quickly than previous generations, and can transition from tasks more easily. People who grew up in the modern tech era are better conditioned for the constant switching that occurs between various tech devices and open windows. However, older adults tend to be superior in focusing and holding longer attention spans.

Between both articles, an overlap of good tech habits are provided below which everyone should be able to stick to:

  • Screen time for children younger than two years is not recommended.
  • Ensure that sedentary screen time (mindless programming or gaming) is not routine.
  • Maintain daily screen-free times, for communal meals and book reading.
  • Avoid screens for at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Turn off screens when not in use / avoid background TV.
  • Choose healthy alternatives to screen time such as outdoor activities.
  • Play an instrument or meditate uninterrupted for 30 minutes a day.
  • Learn another language.
  • Regular breaks for stretching and screen-free time (at the office).

The main thing to remember, when trying to cultivate good technology habits, is to be mindful of the fact that technology is a tool. According to the CFR, embracing technological innovation and speeding its adoption are critical for United States’ national security and economic competitiveness. To secure our nation’s place as a technical innovation hearth, it is crucial to educate people about developing technologies and maintain healthy tech habits.

So, rather than the apocalyptic notion of a new technology hurting us, we should learn more about our toasters so they can’t attack us in our sleep.

Good Technology Habits in Corrections

Because it is so crucial to cultivate these good habits, access to the newest technologies is also necessary. This becomes very difficult for citizens who are imprisoned who have limited access to these technologies.

Whenever a new technology concept emerges, there’s a warming-up period for the general public to become comfortable using it. For inmates trying to find a job when leaving prison, everyone else is already a step ahead of them when it comes to the technology game.

There have been many cases of inmates leaving prison, overwhelmed by how advanced modern computers have become, who are reluctant to try to use them. Being connected to the latest technology allows people to increase online/tech skills, make connections, and improve confidence—all of which future employers appreciate.

According to various articles, including a Slate article by Mia Armstrong published June 2018, prisoners not having access to the evolving world of tech and social media causes an increase in recidivism.

Keeping prisoners up-to-date on current technologies through social media training, digital literacy programs, and access to coding courses, gives them better opportunities when jumping into the job market. Research conducted in 2016 by the RAND Corporation shows that “individuals who participate in any type of educational program while in prison are 43 percent less likely to return to prison.”

So, is technology hurting us? Nope, but just like in the movie WALL-E, it is affecting us. Technology is essential and beneficial to humanity. It all depends on whether or not we want to develop good habits.

Categories
Recidivism

Inmate Rehabilitation:
Who Are We Without Choice?

Across the board, incarceration facilities do two things well: they prevent violent offenders from wreaking havoc upon the state, and they satisfy the shelter, sustenance, and medical needs of varying prisoner populations. Unfortunately, jails and prisons make it hard for inmates to practice making the right decisions, due to the lack of available choices. Compared with life on the outside, prisoners have only a handful of ways they can express their agency. In part, this is by design. Correctional facilities are concerned primarily with security, and in light of that, some inmate choices must be restricted. Even so, without the option, inmates can only help themselves so much.

However, what if there was a way to return a sense of choice to people on the inside? Better yet, what if there was a way inmates could practice making positive life decisions before their sentences end? Returning a sense of choice to inmates could have profound impacts on recidivism. But how do we know what options to offer, or how to frame them? Before we can use choice to improve post-incarceration outcomes, we have to understand more about it.

Without Choice, we are Prisoner to our Emotions

Think about this phrase: “I had no choice.” How many times throughout history has that statement been used to justify something terrible? When people feel like they have no options, they are forced to act. Little time is spent pondering the consequences, or how our actions may impact the people around us. Because of that, we make rash decisions. When we lose customers, friends, or lovers, it’s not because we took a calm, rational approach to the situation. In most instances, we make mistakes when our emotions get the best of us. Without choice, we are living life without self-control.

Self-control is just a series of choices. Sure, they are often hard choices to make. There’s nothing easier than losing your temper. And sure, these self-control choices must be consciously made on a recurring, moment-to-moment basis, but that only makes practice all the more relevant. The more often a person makes positive decisions, the more relaxed those choices become. In fact, self-control is so vital that Professor Richard Nisbettthe world’s greatest authority on intelligence—plainly stated that he’d rather his son be high in self-control than highly intelligent.

This is where jails and prisons can make the most significant impact. Maybe not in the quality of decisions that are made, but in the consistency. An incarceration facility is a micro-society. The choice is limited, but because the same incarcerated person can make the same decisions over and over again over the duration of their sentence, incarceration is a powerful vehicle for reinforcing choice habits. Right now, the evidence shows that U.S. correctional facilities are reinforcing the wrong habits. All of this is to say that without choice, and especially good options, we are the prisoner of our emotions.

With Choice, we can Rehabilitate Ourselves

Imagine this: alongside its usual junk-food staples like soda and candy, a commissary provider includes healthier options like fruit or whole-grain granola bars. Now, inmates have the choice between snacks that are healthy or unhealthy; provided costs are controlled for. On the one hand, they have the instant gratification and sugar-rush that a candy bar offers. On the other, they improve their long-term health. Just by adding more options, the commissary has provided inmates with the opportunity to make a value judgment. This example could be made even more efficient by encouraging inmates to create positive, long-term choices; either by way of price incentives or digital signage campaigns.

Of course, not every behavioral problem can be solved by adding tangerines to the commissary. Many of the people who end up in prison have corrupted perceptions of right and wrong that were ingrained in them over a lifetime. But if jail administrators think about choice as a tool, instead of as an afterthought, prisons and jails could improve recidivism rates by incentivizing positive behavioral change.

The smartest people in our society create their positive options. They don’t wait for someone to give them a handout or tell them it’s okay to solve a problem. They just do it. Nobody listed “Become the first black president of South Africa” as an option on Nelson Mandela’s commissary request form. He made that happen himself. Unfortunately, the majority of the prisoners in the U.S. Justice system aren’t naturally gifted human beings. They’re regular people living regular lives who somewhere down the line, made the wrong choice. Incarceration facilities shouldn’t just punish people for making bad decisions; they should prepare them to make better ones in the future.

Categories
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.

Categories
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.

Categories
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.