Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a new technology which allows for correctional facilities to track inmates and staff and to know their precise location at any given time. Manufacturers of RFID systems promise that they will revolutionize the way that we run correctional institutions and the early indications are that they are right in this regard.
Recently a number of studies have been conducted in an effort to establish once and for all whether RFID could be the game changer that many are hoping. Prisons in the United States are increasingly falling victim to overcrowding and as such any solution which could reduce the levels of violence and improve the safety of inmates and staff are to be welcomed and embraced.
How It Works
The technology behind RFID systems is very simple, especially when we consider what it delivers. The RFID system consists of a number of different components, first there is the tag, which consists of a programmable chip embedded in to a wearable device. These are usually bracelets designed to be worn on the wrists or ankles.
The location of these devices, and therefore the location of the people wearing them, is relayed back to a central control centre and monitored from there. In addition to showing the position of the wearer, RFID technology can be combined with other innovations. For example, by making use of different radio frequencies on different devices, correctional facilities can have doors which will unlock when they detect that they are being pushed or pulled by a guard, and remain locked when they detect that the operator is an inmate.
Both inmates and prison staff are encouraged to wear these devices and the control system will be able to differentiate between the two groups because of differences in the frequencies transmitted from the devices.
There are a number of different providers of RFID technology, currently the Switchboard system is among the most popular.
The Hickman Study
Currently the most comprehensive analysis we have of the effectiveness of RFID systems comes from a study conducted by Hickman et al. The study looked at 14 correctional institutions across the mainland United States who had implemented RFID technology as part of their security arrangements.
Because there is no standardized set up for RFID technology it was being implemented in slightly different ways across the different institutions. This allowed Hickman and the others to compare the efficacy of the different implementations and to draw some broader conclusions from their data.
Hickman and his colleagues found that RFID had huge potential and could ultimately achieve the goals that its proponents have promised. However, the systems they looked at were hindered by poor staff training and a lack of understanding about how to best utilize the systems. In summing up Hickman said, “RFID deployments in correctional facilities require considerable customization to meet the needs of each prison individually.”
RFID technology could well underpin the creation of correctional facilities that are much safer for inmates as well as staff and which cost much less to run and maintain. RFID systems allow for much of a prisons security to occur automatically and therefore can free up a significant amount of time for staff.