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Wristbands Document Interactions Between Prisoners and Officers

Hardin County Jail has upgraded its RFID system with high-frequency 13.56 MHz RFID wristbands, to track every officer-inmate transaction in real time.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 04, 2010Lawsuits are one of most county jails' greatest concerns when it comes to record tracking. When inmates are injured, fall ill or commit suicide, a jail needs to be able to prove it provided all of the services it could offer prior to that incident, and that it was not in any way negligent. In addition, jails must meet guidelines set forth by government-run departments of correction to prove that services are being provided, and that detainees are being properly monitored. Thanks to RFID-tagged wristbands worn by its prisoners, Hardin County Jail, in Eldora, Iowa, now has a precise electronic record of what services each inmate receive, as well as their physical condition, throughout the day.

Initially, the jail's officers manually tracked each inmate using paper and pen, and input various details—such as that individual's recreation time, head counts and the specifics of any interactions—into the PC, to be stored in the facility's jail-management system. The problem was that the data was often passed through several officers, a great deal of time could elapse before it was entered, and there was no way to prove any stated interactions actually occurred.

Correction officers use a handheld computer with a CompactFlash RFID reader card to scan the passive RFID tag installed at each cell's doorway.

"I've walked into a room full of lawyers trying to sort out what's happened [after an incident such as a suicide]," says Nick Whitmore, Hardin County Jail's administrator, "and for a jail that tries to address that without good documentation... they've got a problem."

Hardin County Jail, which can accommodate 107 inmates, had gone through several technologies, beginning with a simple push button in each cell to indicate an officer has entered that cell. The push-button system was then replaced by a bar-coded label above a cell door, which officers read with a bar-code scanner each time they entered. The problem with such solutions, according to Whitmore, was they do not provide any more detail than the fact that the officer was at the cell.

In 2005, Whitmore began working with technology startup company Codex Corp., which sells a product known as Guardian RFID. He liked the idea of RFID technology, and agreed to try the new system at his jail. At the doorway of each cell, as well as in other key locations throughout the facility, Codex installed an RFID tag built into a tamper-proof metal plate, and provided the jail with Trimble Nomad handheld computers with Socket Mobile CompactFlash RFID reader cards to scan those tags. Each tag, manufactured by Codex, with an Texas Instruments high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz RFID inlay compliant with the ISO 15693 standard, is encoded with a unique ID number associated with a cell number in Hardin County's jail-management system. The system also contains a list of all inmates assigned to each cell, along with details regarding every detainee's health, behavior and medication needs.

Before an officer entered a cell, he would first read the tag at the doorway. The screen on the handheld device would then display a list of the inmates assigned to that location, and if he so chose, the officer could select a particular name and follow prompts to indicate that person's condition, as well as what services the officer was providing to that inmate, including dropping off mail, taking him to the recreation area or providing medication. According to Ken Dalley Jr., Codex's president, that information was sent via a Wi-Fi connection to Codex's Web-based server, which received that data and interfaced with Hardin County's jail-management system, thereby first linking that inmate's ID number and his data, and then making it available on the jail-management system, on the county's server, in real time. The software also provided an alert system to warn officers of events that needed to be addressed—if, for example, an inmate was given a shaving razor that needed to be retrieved after a specified amount of time had elapsed.

This was an improvement over the manual or bar-code system, but typically, officers merely read a cell's tag for a service provided to all the inmates inside, and did not record the individual interactions between each inmate and the officer.

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