Under constant watch

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


     Osborne states when TSI was first installed, he had reservations from a little less than a third of the 239-member staff. "I don't think that [security staff] were intentionally not doing tasks that they were assigned, but they didn't like the idea that if they didn't do it, they could be caught." However, Marion did not lose any employees due to tracking, and today Osborne says the staff accepts the beeper-size unit on their belts as a piece of everyday equipment. Oester says this initial resistance is common, but in most cases, the security benefits outweigh deterrents. "Staff members generally have some natural concerns about the Big Brother aspect of being monitored," Oester admits. "But the overwhelming safety aspect that the system provides has swung the support from staff."

Under constant watch

     When non-fictional sciences find a useful, feasible means to apply technology, we marvel. Compared to the alternative skin-implant solution employed by the fictional wardens in "12 Monkeys," the modern technological solution to keep tabs on the incarcerated is far less invasive.

     As Osborne observes, increased safety is one of the greatest benefits of the RFID system in use at Marion. Modern individual tracking technology in corrections makes keeping those confined safe a reality of the present.

After the summons

     Real-time radio frequency identification tracking can help corrections departments keep their charges and staff safe, but passive RFID can aid administrators pre-sentencing. It can be used to track paper files in attorney's offices and follow chain-of-custody in evidence management.

     3M offers an RFID tag solution for file management and to retrieve case files in district attorney's offices. The 3M RFID File Tracking System writes a unique ID number, typically a case file number, to an RFID tag and then that tag is fixed to the file folder. The system also contains a hardware reader pad and a handheld antenna-based system that acquires location. 3M's software application acts as the brains of its solution, interpreting the location of the files and working with file administrators to set up and manage file locations.

     In addition to file tracking, 3M Marketing Manager Erik Johnson says in the past year, 3M has initiated a pilot project through the West Virginia University that establishes an RFID trail at the point of evidence collection in the student lab.

     "[WVU is] out ahead of the curve in terms of pushing the boundaries of evidence tracking," Johnson says.

     The Forensic Science Initiative, a research and training program for forensic scientists, is gathering evidence and initiating the tracking at the point of collection all the way to the point of processing, Johnson says. Because this use is still emerging, he says it's difficult to forecast the direction it will take, but WVU will continue weighing the potential and challenges of the process.

     "Taking the next leap from bar codes to RFID [in evidence collection] can require some additional use cases; right now it's still wait and see," he says. "Extending [RFID use] to evidence is still emerging, so it's really dependent on the willingness from that customer base to demand it."

Hard files in Florida

     Vernon Hills, Illinois-based Zebra Technologies provides a smart-label solution for agencies with large hard-file case loads and can track them quickly without adding burden to the file-making and storage process.

     The solution combines a traditional adhesive label laced with a dormant radio frequency identification tag. The outer surfaces of the labels are printed with text for human readers, and the adhesive side contains a small computer chip and copper antenna for communication with handheld and fixed computer readers. The tags are inactive until they come in the field of electromagnetic radiation, and respond by generating a signal. Greg O'Connell, director of government sales for Zebra, explains that because the tags do not take up much space and they are inert unless called to by the radiation signal, the solution can last for years without taxing space or consumables such as batteries. "The beauty is that because it doesn't involve a battery and it doesn't take up much space, it's perfect for items on the shelf or that are going into storage. Though it may not be ready today, if you need to read it in 50 or 100 years, it's still going to be working."

     Zebra provides a passive RFID label solution for the Florida Office of the State Attorney's 15th Judicial Circuit in West Palm Beach, Florida, to track its 21,000 active felony case files. The hard files at the 15th Judicial Circuit can traverse several offices throughout the four-floor building, and with the system in place, employees are able to locate case files within minutes in most cases, for what O'Connell approximates as about 20 cents per label.

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