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?

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.