Shows like CSI and Prison Break let us discover the innovative and interesting ways that bad guys come up with in order to break out of jail, though none (for me) will ever eclipse the wall and spoon story of Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption. As criminals get smarter and tech savvier it’s up to the authorities to come up with new and interesting ways to keep their captives behind bars. All the systems described are currently in use today in prisons from Los Angeles to Chillicothe, Ohio and many of us are protected by these devices- if they fail, who knows who might be haunting your street?
When you start investigating the prison system you’d be surprised at how many immediate blockades you come up against. People are wary about talking, each prison often DOESN’T have its own website and there seems to be a good deal of secrecy surrounding the whole process. Find out what prisoners learn? Easy. Find out how many doors they are locked behind- not so simple. I have done my best to collate for you a wide overview of some of the most common technology used in prisons round the world- and a few that are being trialled as well.
I have no doubt that there are even more rigorous and complex systems available and in use, but the authorities behind them don’t want their details leaked online do they?
Lelystad Prison, The Netherlands
This jail opened in 2009 and takes a maximum of 150 inmates. It’s considered low risk but hi-tech and every inmate is given an electronic bracelet so their whereabouts can be monitored. Each inmate’s bed has a touchscreen computer where they are required to create a daily schedule of tasks that include personal development time, exercise and education and if they stray from their program; their wrist tag alerts the guards by emitting an alarm. The prisoner will not only be chastised but will also lose ‘credits’ for good behavior, credits which they can use towards phone calls and extra activities.
Despite this Big Brother idea, there are no cameras or microphones in the cells, so the same issues of prisoner bullying and abuse may occur, though this might be somewhat limited by the fact that they are also being documented with emotional recognition software. This allows the temperament of the prisoners to be gauged and to see how aggressive they are feeling.
Benefits of this system not only (hopefully) mean a prison force more dedicated to their rehabilitation but also a reduction of the number of human personnel needed- six people per 150, rather than the usual allocation of 15.
Tarrant County Jail, Texas
This relatively new Texas Jail has had a large amount of money spent on it- $83.2 million to be precise, but we are talking maximum-security after all. When you have a look at just how that was spent, well, it’s hard to understand, to be honest. They are catering to 444 cells and have placed this facility next to the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center and the Tarrant County Corrections Center. All three building are connected by a ‘Sky Bridge’, a fancy way of saying they ferry the inmates from within without exposing them to the public en route. They’ve also created underground tunnels linking the buildings, which sounds like e a readymade escape route to me…
Sustainability and eco-friendliness is where the cash seems to be have spent, with the aforementioned Sky Bridge enabling them to earn a gold LEED certificate for sustainability. They also have added to this with energy wheels placed in the roof which will ‘pre-condition fresh air using exhaust air that has already been tempered’. This means that the county has been able to buy smaller ait coolers for the building- hence a money saving and eco-point and that the smaller ones are more efficient due to the fact they use magnetized bearings, so some parts of it ‘floats’, and gives them a nice Sci-fi mark as well. Special pulpers in the kitchens allow water to be recycled after rinsing trays-important as they’re preparing around 16,500 meals a day. Has any of the money been spent on high tech surveillance? They’re giving nothing away, but all that cash can’t just be for making this prison sustainable…
Twin Towers, Los Angeles
The Twin Towers jail may not have the most auspicious name, but the security is about as high as you can get. The 96 cells each feature microphones which guards can use to tune into it at any point and they’re two way, so a guard can converse with an inmate from the comfort of their safe room. Video cameras focus on all main areas so they can be monitored remotely and a light outside the cells flash from green to red to indicate if anyone is inside. The jail runs on the PRISM system (the Prison Inmate and Safety Management System) created by Jim Ricketts, an ex-Motorola worker. PRISM allows for less one on one interaction, as prisoners are now monitored via a more high-tech manner.
PRISM prisons (it’s not just the Twin Towers) involve inmates wearing a wristband that constantly emits a radio signal so you can identify and locate the inmate. You can also check not only who they are remotely, but if they’re in the correct place and should they take the band off, the guards are alerted and come a’hunting. The Twin Towers stretches over 10 acres of land and contains around 1.5 million square feet. The design is a Panoptic design, created for maximum security prisoners and to enable efficiency.
Avian Advanced Vehicle Interrogation and Notification System
One of the issues with prisons today is the high number of escape attempts that are constantly made. Poor conditions and lack of entertainment often lead prisoners to come up with creative and interesting ways to escape, and should you look into famous escapes you’ll see people have tried everything from creating tunnels to flying out on homemade gliders. An obvious escape route is trying to smuggle out on the trucks that deliver food to the compound, so it’s important to make sure they’re prisoner proof.
The AVIAN system (stands for Advanced Vehicle Interrogation and Notification System) is commonly used in prisons and is a way of making vehicles safe from stowaways. On board seismic sensors read shock waves generated by a beating heart and couple this to any surface area that the body is in contact with. This alerts the drivers if there is an extra body on board and allows them to deal with this in a timely fashion. The data is collected and analyzed within two minutes, so a stowaway is found pretty quickly.
Detecting drugs on visits
Drugs in prison continues to be an issue, and not all of it comes in via a swift throw over the walls. Security measures to check visitors have had to get more developed and this means current scanners need to adapt. At the moment scanners can detect even small traces of drugs on visitors clothing, but the GE Security’s MobileTrace takes this to the next level. Often used in airports, we can now find this in the visitors section of prisons and its detects drugs within 10 seconds after a security member vacuums an area or checks via a Teflon wipe pad. Results are displayed on an LCD screen, but the difficulty is that a trace doesn’t allow a conviction- look at how many of our bank notes are contaminated with cocaine- so the visitor/potential smuggler gets turned away. If similar results are found within the confines of a prison, then it’s time for a more detailed search however….
This tech is often used on the streets as well, in high risk areas such as known drug spots and nightclubs with a bad reputation. “Trace detection devices have provided our officers a great advantage as part of the fight against drugs in Kent. During a night’s work where we have to travel from venue to venue handheld technology is very useful to officers,” said Howard Chandler, Kent Police Force Drugs Liaison Sergeant. “By minimizing the amount of drugs on the streets and in night clubs we can lessen the number of incidents that occur and ensure a safer environment for patrons.”
iOmniscient Prison Security- Smugglers beware!
How do you monitor people outside a prison? There are many ways of checking that prisoners are where they’re supposed to be, but the iOmniscient software allows for being extra sure about where people outside are at every moment. It uses a Non Motion Detection system to discover is anything suspicious is being placed in the perimeter of the prison, even in areas which are partially obscured from view. This helps guards try and control people smuggling in illicit goods, and alert staff if something unusual had been placed.
This object detection system is particularly sensitive to small objects- e.g. a mobile phone and allows them to be captured and taken away. This system is considered some of the most comprehensive in the world, and combine s a Non Motion Detection sensor with a Nuisance Alarm Minimization System (NAMS) so contraband can ideally be detected and picked up early.
Maryland’s North Branch Correctional Institution- Cell Phone Jamming
The last thing you want is for inmates to have access to mobile phones, as they can then try and keep their criminal enterprises going on from the inside. To this extent certain measures have been put in place to try and avoid this happening. There are a certain number of processes in place to this extent which range from a Secure View Scanner of all individuals entering the facility to the BOSS chair which gives an electronic body search. There are also special dogs detecting to sniff out phones, and perimeter cameras to monitor any smuggling activity.
Though these all help, it still continues to be an issue, so the Secretary Gary Maynard has tried to put in place the Safe Prisons Communications Act of 2009. This allows people from correctional facilities to operate a wireless jamming device within a prison or jail.
An alternative to this is to identify vendors providing alternatives to jamming such as Cell Scan and Cell Antenna and see what they suggest). Solutions offered were using blocking materials such as mesh wiring and special wallpaper paint embedded with metal fragments which stops cell phone signals from reaching an antenna, and running interference which stops cell phones in an area unless they’re contacting pre-approved numbers.
It’s great to see how many people are on board with this idea and this could see some major changes in prisons if these suggestions get rolled out nationwide.
Ross Correctional Facility in Chillicothe, Ohio
RFID chipped people sounds like something out of Dollhouse, but this is the way life is if you’re a prisoner at the Ross Correctional Facility in Chillicothe, Ohio. OK, it’s not quite an implant in your skin, but they are using RFID tech to monitor 44,000 inmates. It costs the state $415,000 to run this trial scheme and if it works well they’d like to implement it throughout the 33 facilities in the state.
Inmates wear a wrist sized RFID transmitter which connects to prison computers and lets it know if you try and tamper with it. It’s not just the inmates who wear it- the staff also have these RFID chips attached to their belts, so they can be tracked too! An alarm sounds if one is removed, or if a warder is knocked down. Yes, sounds pretty similar to what they’re doing in Lelystad prison right?
How these work is that each transmitter sends off a unique signal that’s captured by an antenna and processed though a computer system which checks prisoners whereabouts at 2 second intervals. The idea is that issues can be resolved quicker and that known gang members can be separated- with an alarm going if they go near each other.
It’s interesting to see how far prison technology has involved, and we’ve come a long way from using mere bars and electrified fences as a deterrent- though these DO continue to be in use. It looks like a combination of physical and technological barriers will continue to keep us safe from criminals, and there’s bound to be even scarier stuff available- we’re just not being told about it yet.