Evaluating Correctional Technology: What to Look for When Purchasing Perimeter Security, Communications, or Monitoring and Surveillance Systems

Article excerpt

Over the last decade, technological innovation has spurred the development of new devices to improve efficiency in correctional institutions. Technological advances encompass many areas, and have led to changing roles for corrections personnel. Management information systems have been introduced as a more affordable and comprehensive means of tracking inmate activities. Perimeter security has advanced from reliance on the human observer to comprehensive electronic sensing devices. Similar innovations have occurred in internal security - advanced X-ray devices, closed-circuit monitoring, magnetic "friskers" and officer tracking/alerting systems. Drug and alcohol abuse testing packages, telemedicine and videoconferencing all are products of advances in technology.

This technological explosion has not, however, been accompanied by a system for evaluating the utility of the advancements or their potential impact on an agency.

Agencies are most likely to experience expanded uses of technology in the areas of perimeter security, communications, and monitoring and surveillance systems. Below, we examine each of these types of technology and provide guidelines on evaluating their efficacy for a particular agency.

Perimeter Security

A correctional facility is only as secure as its perimeter. The basic role of a perimeter security system is fourfold: deter, detect, document and deny/delay any intrusion of the protected area or facility. Six factors typically affect the probability of detection of most area surveillance sensors, although to varying degrees. These are: 1) the amount and pattern of emitted energy; 2) the size of the object; 3) distance to the object; 4) speed of the object; 5) direction of movement; and 6) reflection and absorption characteristics of the energy waves by the intruder and the environment (e.g., open or wooded area, or shrubbery).

The application of security measures should be tailored to the needs and requirements of the facility to be secured. The security approach will be influenced by the type of facility or material to be protected, the nature of the environment, the client's previous security experience and any perceived threat. These perceptions form the basis for the user's initial judgment; however, they rarely are sufficient to develop an effective security posture. The nature and tempo of activity in and around the site or facility; the physical configuration of the facility to be secured; the surrounding natural and human environment; fluctuations and variations in the weather; and new or proven technologies all are factors which should be considered when planning a security system.

Some examples of intrusion detection sensor technologies include:

* Photo Electric Beam - A photo electric beam transmits a beam of infrared light to a remote receiver, creating an "electronic fence." The sensors often are used to "cover" openings such as doorways or hallways, acting essentially as a trip wire. Once the beam is broken/interrupted, an alarm is generated.

* Microwave Sensors - These are motion detection devices that flood a designated area with an electronic field. A movement in the zone disturbs the field and sets off an alarm. Microwave sensors may be used in exterior and interior applications.

* Wall Vibrations - Vibration sensors are designed to be mounted on walls, ceilings and floors and intended to detect mechanical vibrations caused by chopping, sawing, drilling, ramming or any type of physical intrusion attempt that would penetrate the structure on which it is mounted.

* Fiber Optic Wall - A fiber optic wire sensor is in an open mesh network (quilt) applique that can be applied directly to an existing wall or roof, or installed in a wall (or roof) as it is being constructed. The fiber optic network is designed to detect the low frequency energy (vibrations) caused by chopping, sawing, drilling, ramming or physical attempts to penetrate the structure on which it is mounted. …