Security Review Committee Helps Florida DOC Make Sound Technology Decisions

By Upchurch, James | Corrections Today, July 2003 | Go to article overview

Security Review Committee Helps Florida DOC Make Sound Technology Decisions


Upchurch, James, Corrections Today


I recall vividly in the 1960s going to the prison "camps" at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, Miss., and having the "trusty guards" (a minimum-custody inmate who carried a state-issued weapon and guarded other inmates) shuttle down the key to the entrance gate via a bucket on a rope that was suspended from the "guard tower" catwalk. After the inmate trusty guards had been banned, I also remember spending time in watchtowers myself, trying to stay awake while daydreaming and sneaking quick peeks at the textbooks I had secretly brought up in the tower with me. Initially, frequent visions of escaping inmates running toward the fence and my firing shots just as the inmate was climbing over the simple 10-foot barrier, was enough to hold my interest, but only briefly. Working the night shift with poor lighting on cool evenings in the warmth of the tower cabin invited disaster, especially for someone, such as myself, who was a student and slept little during the day.

It was evident even 40 years ago that there had to be a better way for corrections to use its "human resources" than to have them performing this largely mindless assignment--a task that people are not very proficient at performing. This idea goes to the very heart of this article, which describes and discusses the experience of the Florida Department of Corrections in locating, evaluating, testing and procuring today's security technology and innovative new products to use every resource available to corrections professionals in the most effective manner possible.

Security Review Committee Is Formed

Florida's structured evaluation and assessment process began in 1995 as a result of the passage of a state law that mandated that the secretary of corrections appoint a security review committee to investigate and evaluate the usefulness and dependability of any existing or new security technology at the correctional institutions.

This statute, additionally mandating security audits of Florida's prisons, marked the beginning of a comprehensive security program, which has been supported by departmental leadership and proved successful by the dramatic reduction in the frequency of inmate escapes, particularly from institutions with secure perimeters housing the most dangerous inmates.

Harry Singletary, who was the secretary of the Florida DOC at that time, instructed the Security Review Committee to carefully examine new, "cutting edge" technologies and determine those that could be of benefit to the department's operation, as well as cost-effective. At the same time, he cautioned that the committee needed to be very careful to avoid committing to a technology that would ultimately fail or not perform as claimed. In this line of work, where lives frequently depend on staff's successes or failures and where they are judged by their last mistake, beta testing, or testing prior to full implementation, is a luxury that they can barely afford. The Security Review Committee has carefully adhered to these instructions during the past seven years, conducting beta tests only after much consideration and then only in the context of side-by-side testing with a proven technology.

The Committee's Role

The Security Review Committee is comprised of the four regional directors of institutions, a warden from each region, an assistant warden from each region, a security colonel (institutional chief of security) from each region and representatives from staff development and the inspector general's office. The committee's meetings are coordinated and organized by a correctional services administrator from the Bureau of Security Operations. Meetings are held quarterly on a rotating basis at the training buildings of a different institution from each respective region. Generally, the meetings last seven to eight hours and include discussions of other departmental security-related topics, as well as presentations by four or five different vendors. …

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