Using Investigative Surveillance Technology in Correctional Institutions

By Rulo, Michael L. | Corrections Today, July 2005 | Go to article overview

Using Investigative Surveillance Technology in Correctional Institutions


Rulo, Michael L., Corrections Today


In the correctional setting, correctional administrators are often faced with a variety of challenges dealing with criminal conduct involving inmates and, on occasion, staff. The very nature of the correctional setting--hundreds to thousands of offenders supervised by staff within the confines of a hardened and secure perimeter--creates an array of complex technical and human problems for correctional investigators. For this reason, the selection, deployment and acquisition as well as the legal and ethical use of modern surveillance technology must be considered.

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Prison venues are in most cases facilities filled with masse obstructions of concrete, steel and wire, the ambient noise of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, and the daily activity of people functioning within. The investigator must also function under the probing eye of inmates and, unfortunately, unethical staff who may intentionally or inadvertently thwart investigators' abilities to perform their duties. A further complication some departments face is the variation from jurisdiction to jurisdiction relative to the investigator's scope of authority. In some jurisdictions, correctional investigators have full peace officer authority, while in others they have none. The latter creates a circumstance in which perpetrators are unlikely to be detected and held criminally accountable. However, in other jurisdictions, criminal investigations are conducted by state or local law enforcement agencies, but unfortunately these officers may lack institutional knowledge and experience. The scope of the investigator's authority notwithstanding the deployment of surveillance devices within a facility must be lawful and ethical. For those departments that lack peace officer powers, effective liaison between the department and state and local law enforcement agencies, and county, state or district attorneys is critical. Corrections officials must communicate the need for effective investigation and prosecution of inmates, staff and citizens who choose to engage in criminal activity or enterprise within jails and prisons.

Community collaboration is essential to fulfilling the mission of public safety through the operation of safe, secure facilities. Corrections professionals must incorporate a bit of the community-policing model into their operations and marketing strategy to increase public awareness and garner political support. It is reasonable to believe that the worst offenders, if allowed to commit a crime while incarcerated, are likely to re-offend after release unless they are held accountable. Visitors or staff who choose to conspire with inmates must be held accountable as well.

Correctional workers know that their privacy is very limited within the confines of the facilities. As a matter of law and administrative regulation, employees' expressed consent to searches of vehicles, person and property is made clear. In the event that reasonable suspicion or probable cause is developed pursuant to an investigation using surveillance equipment, a search is likely to follow.

The Fourth Amendment states, in part, that "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause." Regarding this issue, the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin published "Revoking Consent to Search" by Jayme W. Holcomb in February 2005. Citing Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 219 (1973), Holcomb noted that, "Law enforcement officers, however, do not need probable cause or a warrant to conduct a search if the person with proper authority voluntarily consents to the search," adding that "The prevailing view is that an individual may revoke a previously given consent to search at any time prior to the discovery of the items sought." However, in a prison setting, citing United States v. …

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Using Investigative Surveillance Technology in Correctional Institutions
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