The United States has something of a problem when it comes to its prisons; put simply there are too many inmates, not enough guards, and not enough space. Overcrowding has become common, even in prisons which are housing some of the most violent and dangerous offenders in the country. It is clearly in all our interests to improve this situation, guards do not want to work in an unsafe environment and the eventual rehabilitation of inmates will be much more difficult when they are in dangerous and stressful conditions.
As with many of the problems that face us as a society today, we turn to technology to help alleviate the issues. There are a number of different paths that our technological efforts are currently taking in order to make prisons safer. In this article we take a look at some of the most promising innovations which could dramatically alter our approach to correctional facilities and the rehabilitation of offenders.
Airports have begun to adopt different types of scanners which are unobtrusive and allow for security to very quickly and easily assess whether an individual is carrying any contraband. These scanners work by using millimeter-length radio waves from an array of antennas which rotate around the individual.
This allows a computer to then build an image, which is displayed on the security screen, which shows the person’s body as well as any objects that they might have concealed under their clothes. These scanners can not only make the process of screening inmates and visitors much quicker and less intrusive than other methods, they are also very safe. Studies have shown that the total amount of radiation an individual is exposed to is less than they would receive making a call on their cell phone.
Initial versions of the scanners have proved controversial because they produce highly detailed images of the individual’s body and can therefore see through clothes. While these privacy concerns are clearly justified there is ongoing work being done to make the final output image less detailed while still being able to detect any concealed items.
A variety of systems have been trialled over the years to allow for the easy tracking of staff and inmates. The latest technology to be turned towards this objective is RFID (radio frequency identification), a technology which offers several advantages over the alternatives.
RFID systems consist of a wearable device, usually a wrist or ankle bracelet, which transmits a radio signal. By monitoring these signals in a central command room, the security team is able to see exactly where inmates, or staff, are currently located.
RFID systems, such as Switchboard, can also be adapted to allow or prevent individuals from accessing certain areas as appropriate.
RFID is a great way of ensuring that inmates can only access certain areas of a facility, however one flaw is that because the RFID systems use radio waves, they detect the presence of a device rather than an individual. By contrast biometric systems make use of fingerprints or iris scans to ensure that only approved individuals can access these areas.
There are numerous challenges facing the United States prison industry today and it is becoming increasingly clear that we need new approaches and solutions to address the issue. Technology definitely has a role to play in improving our prisons so that reoffending rates drop, and guards can work in a safe environment.