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

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.


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.

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.


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.

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.

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, 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.