Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Considering tech solutions on jail safety

As jailers across Texas and policymakers at the capitol consider new means to prevent jail suicides, our friend Diana Claitor from the Texas Jail Project pointed out to me that new electronic guard check systems are being created for tracking inmate welfare checks by jailers. In California, according to this article, such systems were installed to reduce high suicide rates in state prisons:
In a bid to curtail inmate suicides, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has deployed an electronic tracking system that prison guards must use to carry out welfare checks at 33 institutions.

The Inmate Welfare Check System (IWCS) is designed to more accurately record the time and location of all welfare checks of inmates housed in the Administrative Segregation Unit.
"CDCR will be able to capture accurate, real-time data when conducting welfare checks of inmates, Joe Panora, the director of Enterprise Information Services wrote in an Oct. 15 CDCR blog post.

The system will allow the department to "increase our efficiency and overall effectiveness providing sound reportable data, while adhering to court mandates and reducing the percentage of inmate suicide attempts," Panora added.

Inmates in the ASU must be checked on at least three times an hour, at intervals not to exceed 30 minutes during the first three weeks.

The new system is composed of three parts: small devices called ibuttons installed at the front of each cell with a unique digital address; a Guard One Rounds Tracker "pipe," which reads the ibutton to record the time and location of the check; and a leather wallet that contains 12 ibuttons intended to correspond to an inmate’s current activity.

The system is simple to use. To record the welfare check, a guard touches the pipe to the ibutton on the front of the cell and then touches the pipe to the ibutton in the leather wallet to record an inmate’s activity.

At the end of each shift, an officer inserts the pipe into the Internet Protocol Downloader to securely transfer all of the time, location and activity data across LAN/WAN.
Diana wondered if this was "better than paper logs or just a high tech gadget doing exactly the same thing?" as well as "is it easy to manipulate?"

Certainly the system described above would be harder to manipulate than paper, since anyone can write down wrong information. Having to record each inmate's status from 12 options - in the example in the article - would mean they couldn't just hand the pipe to an inmate to walk through the dorm, someone would have to record information at each cell. That'd be hard to fake.

So that does seem superior to paper logs to me. That said, because there are many ways to set up such a system, I don't necessarily recommend the CA vendor over others - I don't know enough about the players in the market or their products. Conceptually, though, it makes a lot of sense.

Beyond documenting guard work, there are all sorts of ways one could imagine using Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFIDs) or GPS tracking to improve security at prisons.

For that matter, there are sensors that conceivably could be used to further inmate safety, right down to in-cell heart and health monitoring. For example, Grits happens to be an amateur electronics hobbyist. Here's the list of sensors on sale at one of the online maker sites I use.

Anything a sensor can capture generates data you can measure, log, compare, analyze, etc..  So, for example, if the only way to commit suicide involves standing on the bed, you could put a pressure sensor in it so that, if the weight were above a certain number of pounds per square inch (standing instead of laying), it would call the guard, collapse the bed, or otherwise intervene to stop a suicide event. I'm brainstorming, but offer that example just to suggest that sensors could be used in all sorts of creative ways.

All this to say, I wouldn't spurn the idea out of hand that an array of new products and yet-to-be-invented electronic gizmos might improve prison and jail safety, even if early adopters may be penalized as prototypes are refined. There's an electronics revolution going on right now related to these sorts of sensor systems and the "Internet of Things," so it would be premature to dismiss the notion that its influence might productively seep into corrections.

Related: Wearable tech and the corrections market


Phelps said...

It's really a security question, and how much you can trust the guards. Are you combatting lazy, or malice? Malice is another magnitude harder to combat than laziness.

This system seems to be designed to combat laziness, and I think it will do that. You can't just sit in the guard shack and tick off a bunch of boxes on the sheet, saying that you walked the cells. You have to actually walk them, stopping at each cell to perform a multi-step task. At that point, you might as well take a look at the inmates (to alleviate your boredom as much as anything.) In that sense, I think it will actually get the guards up off their asses to look.

Malice is a whole new issue, and not much can be done about that beyond "hire better guards."

Anonymous said...

Is there any way to get prison records regarding injured prisoners? Recently had an old friend die just a day after having been paroled. He was paroled while in the hospital but never left the hospital bed. He was hospitalized due to having been in a fight with another inmate. I'm thinking he was paroled in order to keep his death off the prison records..