Jail House Rocks for Some
It’s a $38 billion a year business. It’s a residential community of 2.3 million men, women and children, with a population gain of more than 500 percent over the past thirty years. There are bedrooms, dayrooms, exercise rooms, hospital facilities and even gardens.
But the culture here is vastly different as compared to a Ritz Carlton or Mayo Clinic.
In most every typical security integration project, “you want to keep people outside the facility; here you want to keep them in,” says Bob Ellis, president of Engineered Control Systems, Spokane, Wash., and who was mentored into the sector years ago. His firm, among about a dozen or so in the U.S., specializes, although not necessarily exclusively, in corrections — local jails, state and federal prisons, both public and private.
Obviously, there is money to be made serving this niche as well as its umbrella criminal justice industry with $110 billion annually in spending. But reseller beware.
More than a few integrators have failed and disappeared, according to Ellis. “You have to know what you are doing,” he says. “These are much different projects” than typical security integration. You have to know what to expect; how to price right; understand the particular needs of corrections; have patience in the sometimes long decision making of the buyer, main contractor or architect; and also be experienced in specialized technologies that can range from “fatal fences” to inmate visitation systems, among the many big and little details.
Donald Rochon, president of EO Integrated Systems, Washington, Mich., agrees. “You can lose your butt. You just don’t want to wade in. Each facility or agency “has its own way of doing things,” Rochon adds. His firm has about 80 percent of its total business in some type of corrections work. One suggestion for newbies: Start with a small job or two and then work up the complexity ladder.
So it is crucial “to know how prisons and government work,” points out Bruce Brown, project manager for MCM Integrated Systems, Van Nuys, Calif. For example, “you have to go through background checks” for all staff assigned to the project, he says. Whether it is a prison or a courthouse, the essentials are security video, access control, intercom, often personal emergency response systems, and sometimes nurse call, although the latter gear is not as feature rich as hospital versions.
A decade or more ago, there was a lot of new prison construction. There still is some but today there is significant business for security system integrators in retrofit. “It’s about 80 percent of my business,” comments Brown. “As with many businesses in this economy, there is consolidation in jails and prisons to cut cost. There is closing and combining of some facilities,” says Rochon.
In many ways, “it is a local market,” he adds. And that impacts the labor side of projects, which can prove tricky. “Hours of work can change” suddenly. “There can be work at night,” says Brown. And, with government work, pay is pegged at local prevailing rates. A previous issue of Today’s System Integrator explored this issue and the influence of the Davis-Bacon Act.
In addition, “workers must be escorted. Just to run out to the truck for tie wraps could be a half hour or more trip going through numerous locked doors,” says Rochon.
Most everything installed must be ruggedized. “You have to use detention grade gear. Hide wiring in conduit. And you have to caulk everything so as to visually indicate tampering,” adds Ellis. In this niche, buyers also tend to see their equipment as lasting 15 to 20 years,” observes Brown, with a timespan very much longer than corporate and commercial use of technology. Ellis sees analog over megapixel cameras in many projects, with a longer period of migration from one to the other. One notable change: There is a need for longer storage of video, according to local, state and federal mandates.
According to Ellis, unique demands in the niche demand a higher level of security technology.
In the control room, for example, there are touchscreens and high speed industrial-grade programmable logic controllers or PLCs. With thousands of daily transactions of inmates, guards and other officials moving through many secured doors, “equipment must reaction accurately within, say, 250 milliseconds for access control,” explains Ellis. So, for instance, “we have to write our own drivers. It is programming intensive.” His firm has its own research and development operation, and tests systems in-house with the buyer before installation.
Ellis contends that “about 90 percent of typical security products are not suited” for the corrections field. “And you have to design more ergonomics” into control gear. “There are no keyboards in control rooms.” An officer may handle about 1,000 transactions an hour. “And we rarely use video analytics,” adds Ellis, who does, however, use biometrics in certain situations. For example, retinal scanning is in use in some facilities to securely identify inmates as they move from cells to court appearances and back.
As with other integration projects, there are “trophy” prison jobs.
Tom Sansone Sr, president of T&R Alarm Systems, Clifton, N.J., has done many corrections jobs over the years. But he really enjoys talking about working on a venture at the infamous Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, N.Y. One big challenge, says Sansone, is the age of the facility. It first opened in 1826, the third prison built by New York State. The first prison was built in 1797 in Greenwich Village and a second one in 1816 called Auburn State Prison. “Jail cells at Sing Sing and the complexity of working within the population is much more intense than installing a security system in a new facility,” observes Sansone.
Another unique T&R project is the 7,000-square-foot Bergen Regional Medical Center Forensics D-1 unit, which was renovated in 2008. Part of the medical center’s facilities, it is maintained by the Bergen County Sheriff's Department. Designed for maximum security and abuse resistance, the facility is reinforced by concrete block walls and heavy-duty metal ceilings.
A member of the PSA Security Network of Denver, Colo., T&R Alarm Systems worked with the co-op to aid in obtaining the best solutions for the job. The integrator picked Vicon Industries of Hauppauge, N.Y.; TOA Electronics of Burlingame, Calif.; ComTech Communications of Sacramento, Calif.; and Magal-Senstar Inc. (MSi) of Herndon, Va., for the project.
Still, overall Sansone says that the risky part in many projects is labor. “You can get really hurt. There is always downtime in a corrections facility, lockdowns and other causes. You must account for all tools coming in and going out. It very much is a matter of project micro-management.” He suggests integrators go “1.5 on labor.”
As compared to the past, there are now private-owned and operated corrections facilities. “And I believe that the private sector is even more budget minded,” says Sansone.
Numerous integrators who have made a solid business in corrections consistently advise that it takes both deep experience working the niche as well as expertise with myriad typical and unique technologies.
And when it comes to retrofit projects especially, it also takes a solid understanding of very old legacy equipment, new technology and networking, according to Dale Kougel, engineering manager at Stanley Convergent Security Solutions (SCSS), Indianapolis, Ind. No doubt, SCSS has an impressive track record in corrections. “In the 20 or so years in the field, we have handled thousands of projects and hundreds of facilities,” says Ed Pedersen, vice president of engineered solutions. “We have been doing physical security information management, for example, for 15 years and before there was today’s recognition of PSIM” more widely, adds Pedersen.
There are challenges shared by many integrators and facilities. When it comes to older facilities and retrofit projects, often it is about budget constraints, according to Dusty Hackleman, senior corrections sales engineer. “We build everything in our shop, test it all and bring in the client to view it all” before switching to installation, says Hackleman. He adds that it is important to work with nonproprietary equipment and provide a high degree of maintenance and service. This includes industrial grade PLCs and I/Os all connected and a command center with state-of-art touchscreens, adds Kougel. “You just have to move people correctly, quickly and easily throughout a facility,” he says.
In addition to security video, access controls, intercoms and utility controls, SCSS also integrates video visitation, duress systems and a variety of fence/perimeter alerting systems. It also has wireless touchscreens as add-on modules. There is growing interest in biometrics as a way to more securely handle intake and release, adds Kougel. EyeSwipeNano, for example, is a miniaturized iris recognition system providing real-time iris capture, at-a-distance and in motion. And there are the firm’s eServices, for online, real-time eManagement tools and services, points out Pedersen.
Concerning video visitation, what SCSS calls its Visimate solution, there is centralized control and management as well as scheduling. Depending on implementation, some correctional facilities also see it as a revenue sources for the facility, observes Pederson.
|Video Analytics Plays a Role|
In Minnesota, Scott County Jail covers 88,737 square feet, including 160 cells that house sentence and pre-trial adult male and female offenders. Juvenile delinquent offenders are also housed there for a limited time. The facility has a secure tunnel that connects the Jail to the Scott County Justice Center, to provide for the efficient and safe movement of prisoners to and from Court. In addition, there is a secure courtroom within the jail itself.
Scott County Jail sought a real-time video analytics solution to assist in the detection of unauthorized people in restricted zones. Of 186 cameras at the site, the jail required the enabling of 90 cameras with video analytics capabilities by embedding the Agent Vi (of Israel) component in Axis Communications (Chelmsford, Mass.) encoders that stream video from the analog cameras. The distributed analytics architecture – which splits the video analysis between the camera and the server – enables use of a single analytics server to handle all cameras. Accordingly, no additional hardware or equipment had to be purchased for the Milestone (Beaverton, Ore.) surveillance system to support video analytics. Now alerts have proven to be much more effective than visual monitoring of screens in the master control station by corrections staff, according to Captain Bonnie Case, Scott County Jail Administrator.
|Working Around the Inmates|
Butte County Jail, in Oroville, Calif., is operated by 135 correctional staff and civilian employees and includes two housing units, a medical department, a kitchen facility, and a central control and administrative area. The jail required a new video and security system to replace one previously installed that frequently malfunctioned and did not provide the image quality required to assist with investigations of incidents at the jail. The video system also needed to integrate with a touchscreen security system used to control inmate and officer movements.
The twist: The jail had to remain fully operational during the installation of the new system, a challenge that was met by integrator P2 ABC Controls of Easton, Pa., experienced in correctional facilities, from juvenile to super-maximum security.
Now, nearly 100 Bosch Security System (Fairport, N.Y.) day/night and FlexiDomes provide video of the Charlie and Delta housing units as well as central areas of the facility. They feature a rugged castaluminum housing and polycarbonate dome that is vandal resistant, withstanding up to 120 pounds of force.
Each housing unit, as well as the central administrative area, features a control room with multiple monitors, allowing officers to view live video 24 hours a day. Officers, the staff sergeant or other management personnel can operate the system from any of the three control centers for increased flexibility. Touchscreens used to control doors within the facility are integrated via RS-232 with an Allegiant matrix system. "The video is clear and enables our staff to identify individuals on screen - even in a crowd," says Jeff Hayes, correctional lieutenant, Butte County Sheriff's Office. "The high quality allows us to more easily investigate incidents or complaints and quickly resolve issues."
|Megapixel Cameras the Perfect Fit|
Even when it comes to integration within correction facilities, the basic mandate to understand the client’s business and respond with what is really needed is always – or should be -- at the heart of many partnerships.
It’s what works for Capt. David Baisden of the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office and Joshua Herron of Digi Surveillance Systems, Pryor, Ok., especially when it comes to Herron’s fine focus on high resolution security video. Baisden is currently running over one hundred and thirty Avigilon (Vancouver, British Columbia) HD cameras for complete coverage of the jail.
“We had some real issue with regard to our video, which was hard to review” for investigation of incidents, points out Baisden. “The system had to be the lifeline for officers working the pods,” he says. Prison and jail designs have sought to increasingly restrict and control the movement of inmates throughout the facility while permitting a maximal degree of direct monitoring by a smaller corrections staff. As compared to traditional large landing-cellblock designs, decentralized "podular" layouts are today’s template with everyone having their own cell.
When facing the jail challenges, Herron realized that megapixel cameras were the perfect fit with the ability to see each pod all the time live or recorded. “But it also was a matter of communications and trust to show solutions that are current and to make suggestions” where it makes business sense.
|Capturing Those Incident Details|
Shawnee County Department of Corrections (SNDOC) in Topeka, Kansas, has deployed a Avigilon (Vancouver, British Columbia) high definition surveillance system to heighten security, expedite investigations and, ultimately, improve inmate behavior.
Faced with more than 300 incidents of inmate misconduct each year including assault, theft, vandalism, and fraud, the SNDOC was unable to deliver the video evidence needed to successfully investigate and prosecute most of these cases with its previous analog-based surveillance system. “Our investigations were at best crippled and in most cases utterly worthless,” comments Captain Timothy Phelps. “Since deploying the high definition surveillance system, we’ve easily tripled the number of cases we have sent for prosecution and they have all been successful.”
|Folsom Prison Shakes Off the Blues with IP Video|
IP cameras and other video equipment are being used to oversee factories, inmate work areas, the central office and surrounding areas of the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) at northern California’s iconic Folsom Prison.
“We selected Infinova (Monmouth Junction, N.J.) for our more rugged applications…and in environments not necessarily friendly to many video cameras,” reports Wendell Hubbell, senior information analyst, California Prison Industry Authority. “We’re using the equipment both outdoors and indoors. For the central office, most of the cameras are outside, watching the periphery of the building. Other cameras are installed in strategic locations throughout the area surrounding CALPIA. The inside cameras are focused primarily on inmate work areas.”
The outside cameras are running via CAT 6 cable, and inside, they operate on power over Ethernet. “Installation was easy and smooth,” adds Joe Olson, partner in The Henke Group, manufacturers’ representatives in northern California and Nevada. “The prison likes the system because we could get it installed quickly and it works.”
|We Have No ‘Failure to Communicate’|
Intercoms, audio and audio/video, are an essential tool when integrating security technologies into correctional institutions. But there are many variations.
Among the workhorse solutions are intercoms from firms such as Aiphone of Bellevue, Wash. Its line aimed at corrections can notify staff of serious situations or provide communication for inmates in case of an emergency. Guards can monitor all stations inside a cell block and be able to deter aggressive prisoner behavior before a situation occurs. Paging is also another way for staff to communicate.
Then there are specialized inmate video visitation systems, designed for correctional facilities of all sizes and aimed at alleviating financial and time constraints while enhancing security.
Among vendors: Primonics of Plattsburgh, N.Y. with its TeleCorrections and Renovo Software of Edina, Minn.
Westchester County D.O.C. is located in Valhalla, N.Y. and serves a population of approximately 950,000 people. It consists of a jail division, which houses individuals 16 years and older, and a penitentiary division which houses individuals sentenced to one year or less. The jail has an operating capacity of 1,693 beds. TeleCorrections was installed at Westchester County D.O.C. Before TeleCorrections, county officers would generally spend an hour or more travelling to and from the facility, including a 30 minute wait time at the facility.
Renovo Software, working with integration partner Stanley Security Solutions of Indianapolis, Ind., provides its video visitation solution, including 113 IP-based video visitation stations, to Kent County Jail in Grand Rapids, Mich. It uses the software to schedule, automate and manage its visitation policies, as well as provide Web-based public scheduling, which gives the public the convenience of scheduling visits online, in advance.