Under constant watch

Real-time tracking and mapping in corrections allows management to better survey and protect


     "The future is history …"

     But for this article's purpose, not in the apocalyptic sense of the quote. The concept, borrowed from a dystopian sci-fi flick, is ever pertinent when it comes to the 21st century and technology. Each time a new technology is applied in law enforcement and related fields, conceptions of applicant are altered to fit the new future.

     The film referenced in this article's opening, 1996's "12 Monkeys," stars Bruce Willis as the protagonist from the future who is tracked between time continuums by a microchip implanted in his flesh.

     In correctional realities, time-travel tracking is moot. But the ability to trace individuals housed inside a secured facility has its safety advantages, say RFID authorities and corrections vets.

     Alanco Technologies makes a real-time tracking technology for corrections, TSI Prism, which includes radio frequency identification (RFID) technology and software that tracks the whereabouts of individuals within a facility 24/7.

Tracking people in real time

     To separate the modern from future-fiction stories, the TSI Prism system from Arizona-based Alanco keeps inmate tracking above the epidermis. The system is coordinated with a variety of components that track both guards and inmates, which include transmitters, antennae receivers and a computer network that follows real-time locations of its charges.

     Inmates wear a transmitter on their wrists that is secured by a tamper-detecting bracelet. Officers wear a transmitter on their utility belts. Both transmitters traject a unique RFID code that identifies the wearer in the database every 2 seconds.

     Nine-year president of TSI Prism, Greg Oester, explains the signals from transmitters are collected by an array of antennas throughout the prison facilities. A supervising computer system captures all of the data and determines, based on a time of arrival triangulation methodology, where each transmitter is at each 2-second transmission.

     "This gives us the ability to know exactly where everyone is at any given time, who they may be associating with — other inmates or staff in the area — and then we archive that data so we can go back in the database to investigate incidents," Oester says.

     The system can create an alarm if an inmate enters a restricted area. Other restrictions can be tailored according to facility, perimeter and inmate privilege. Certain inmates or all inmates can be excluded from leaving their housing area, for example, or opposing gang members can be electronically separated by producing a warning if they get too close.

     "Historically, every time we put a system into a prison, inmate violence is reduced simply because inmates cannot deny their presence at certain events," Oester says. "Once they learn they're being tracked, they just don't do things that they might ordinarily do."

MCTC experience

     TSI Prism was launched eight years ago and is now in use in six adult and three juvenile facilities, with three integrations under construction, including the company's biggest project, a Washington, D.C., jail housing 2,500 inmates.

     In Marion, Virginia, a correctional treatment facility has been applying the surveillance technique for nearly three years.

     Marion Correctional Treatment Center is a special purpose institution that houses and treats convicted mentally-ill male felons from across the state of Virginia. Warden Kenneth Osborne, who has been at MCTC for nearly 17 years, says the center hosts a daily population of about 215 inmates. Osborne has been in charge of the prison since it activated TSI Prism in May 2006.

     Osborne says the frequency-emitting devices increase officer and inmate safety. Prison guards at Marion also wear an RFID locator, so surveillance can locate the officer nearest an event, making manpower resources more efficient. Detainees are additionally protected because the system can be set to electronically guard vulnerable prisoners, or alert officers if known rivals get too close. Management can then respond to incidents more quickly, or thwart them before they begin, Oester explains.

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