Exploring Blended Touch-Screen and Graphic Panel Control Systems

By Ross, Richard; Buursma, William | Corrections Today, July 2004 | Go to article overview

Exploring Blended Touch-Screen and Graphic Panel Control Systems


Ross, Richard, Buursma, William, Corrections Today


In the wake of voter-initiated get-tough-on-crime measures, the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) responded with a major new prison construction program during the past seven years. Several new prisons have been sited throughout the state and most existing facilities have been expanded to ultimate capacity.

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In the area of technology, the Oregon experience with designing new prison facilities has been evolutionary in nature. Earlier prisons have used touch-screen technology throughout the facility, while the latest generation facility features a blended security controls system using both touch-screen and graphic panel control technologies. The touch-screen technology requires that an operator touch an electronic screen image to effect a command. In comparison, the graphic panel technology requires that the operator touch an image printed on the face of the control console to depress a microswitch and effect a command. Both of these electronic systems are driven by remote processors and both call up video and voice communications to facilitate the command. And, these different control devices are electronically networked into one combined system.

Oregon's Lessons Learned

As Oregon has expanded its prison system, it also has embraced what it calls the Oregon Accountability Model, emphasizing the importance of staff-to-inmate direct contact to allow staff to reinforce and model positive pro-social behaviors and attitudes in offenders. ODOC emphasizes that new prisons must be safe and secure and that technology be used only if it is cost-effective, considering equipment and long-term staff training or the number of staff to be deployed.

To continue to build on lessons learned from previous projects, Oregon conducts audits, reports and other types of post-occupancy reviews from a construction and operational standpoint. Some lessons have been learned in the selection of security controls technology during the course of several projects. First, it is efficient to allow staff at the unit level to control cell doors, but control should be remotely overridden to a central control area during emergencies or slow shifts when fewer staff are available to man those posts. Also, when security controls are placed at the unit level, they must be protected from inmate sabotage such as the "accidental coffee spill." Additionally, touch-screen controls tend to encourage staff to focus their concentration more on the computer screen and less on their visual supervision areas than graphic panel control systems. Finally, graphic panel control systems function well at the unit level for ease of staff training and space allocation, but are not practical in central control centers where the graphic display of several large areas would become space and ergonomically prohibitive.

When examining security controls technology, the security planners have to consider issues such as the complexity of the areas being controlled, type of staff operators, such as short-term bid posts versus long-term assigned posts, and the ergonomics of how staff will operate systems while maintaining direct eye contact with their visual supervision areas. Touch-screen and graphic panel can be compared to a book. A short story may only have one chapter, while a novel would have several. The graphic panel is an all-in-front-of-you, one-chapter approach, while the touch-screen controls cycle through several chapters in a more confined area. When staff are controlling smaller areas, graphic panel control systems work well for ease of training and operation, but as the facility grows in size and becomes more complex, the touch-screen controls become more responsive and efficient in managing the overall institution.

Oregon's most recently constructed prison, Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, epitomizes the best of ODOC's lessons learned. The facility houses 1,360 inmates and has a staff of more than 300. …

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