Putting Technology Behind Bars: Find out How One Jail in Arizona Has Used New Technology to Keep Prisoners Where They Belong

By Roberts, Marta | Security Management, July 2005 | Go to article overview

Putting Technology Behind Bars: Find out How One Jail in Arizona Has Used New Technology to Keep Prisoners Where They Belong


Roberts, Marta, Security Management


The Fourth Avenue Jail in Maricopa County, Phoenix, Arizona, which opened its incarceration area in April 2005, is an example of how innovative building design, cutting-edge technology, and well-trained personnel can combine to create a secure environment. Built in a style that matches the architectural warehouse feel of the surrounding area, the facility is a mid-rise building that takes up one city block in downtown Phoenix. In addition to the prisoner facilities, it includes two initial-appearance courts--one for the county and one for the City of Phoenix--as well as a high-security superior courtroom, and an early-felony-disposition courtroom. Although the incarceration section of the jail--located on the second, third, and fourth floors of the building--was only recently opened, the intake area and the courts have been open since September 2004.

The 600,000-square-foot maximum-security facility, which can house more than 2,000 prisoners, was the brainchild of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio began by setting up a new jail construction unit to help develop and implement the plans. The team was composed of two planning coordinators and security, technology, and construction experts from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff's office began planning for the Fourth Avenue facility more than seven years ago after funding was provided through an increase in the county's sales tax. Architects and technology experts worked with the new jail construction team to devise the plans for the jail, after which installers brought the plans to life.

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The facade of the jail does not have the traditional trappings of a high-security facility. Red brick, stainless steel, and glass blocks adorn the exterior, which is unmarred by chain-link fences or barbed wire. The unobtrusive veneer belies the modern and innovative interior. Among the elements that make up the facility's cutting-edge approach to security are the high-tech security system, with biometric access control and digital CCTV cameras, special cell construction, and a state-of-the-art video visitation program.

The courts. Inside the intake area are two initial-appearance courts. Arizona law requires that all arrested individuals appear before a magistrate judge within 24 hours of arrest. Although the public is not allowed to enter the courtroom, monitors inside the visitor lobby allow members of the public to view the action inside.

Additionally, Arizona law permits victims of crimes to be present and testify at each court proceeding, including the initial-appearance hearing. When victims choose to testify at the initial hearing, they are led to a private booth adjacent to the visitor lobby. The booth contains a monitor with live audio and video from inside the court. If the victim chooses to make a statement, he or she can do so over an intercom also located in the booth.

The two superior courtrooms are located in the basement of the facility. Members of the public can enter those courtrooms through a designated court entrance, where they must walk through metal detectors monitored by officers from the Sheriff's Office. Security inside the courtroom, including guards and CCTV, is controlled by employees of the superior court.

Access control. Access control is a major concern in any secured facility, and it is even more critical for a jail. Arpaio and the other members of the jail construction unit wanted a highly secure and reliable means of controlling access and identifying both staff and inmates. They ultimately decided that a system based on biometrics would best meet their needs. What they liked about a biometric identifier was that, unlike a card, it could not be lost, stolen, or demagnetized, says Jail Planning Coordinator Captain Charles E. Johnson.

An iris scan was chosen because, according to Johnson, it was the most reliable biometric identifier available at the time of installation.

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Putting Technology Behind Bars: Find out How One Jail in Arizona Has Used New Technology to Keep Prisoners Where They Belong
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