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Enhancing Department of Corrections investigative units with AI-powered OSINT

The contemporary digital landscape is generating vast reservoirs of data that agencies must connect and analyze


AI enhanced open-source intelligence (OSINT) is a vital capability to support all types of investigations.

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By Mark Wasson

In today’s digital world, federal, state and community corrections officers work around the clock to combat formidable obstacles, from smuggled contraband to drug abuse to escalating prison violence.

On top of these responsibilities, vacancy and turnover rates are severely impacting Department of Corrections (DOC) operations nationally, placing time at an absolute premium.

Additionally, many agencies are tasking officers with collecting and analyzing intelligence for investigative purposes to proactively identify Security Threat Groups and their co-conspirators. These groups operate both inside and outside correctional facilities. This is a challenging yet doable assignment for those equipped with technology that can rapidly adapt to the constantly changing digital age.

Most experts will tell you technology undergoes significant changes every 13 months. Unfortunately, resource constraints and extended agency procurement cycles, coupled with slow development response in support of the distinct requirements of the corrections intelligence cycle, have further hindered correctional agencies capacity to acquire platforms that can collect, process and leverage digital information within prisons and remain relevant.

Simply put, the contemporary digital landscape is generating vast reservoirs of data that agencies must connect and analyze while cohesively providing the agency decision makers with sustained intelligence applicable on three key levels – strategic, operational and tactical. As a result, officers and investigators must look to new methods to collect intelligence and aid investigations effectively and efficiently.

AI enhanced open-source intelligence (OSINT) is a vital capability to support all types of investigations.

How OSINT powers the DOC

OSINT is ideally suited for intelligence gathering as it enables seamless search and analysis of publicly available sources including the open, deep and dark web, as well as other integrated data sources. This allows investigators to generate valuable insights to aid investigations of criminal activity inside and outside prisons.

OSINT helps correctional officers and intelligence units’ piece together information from a wide range of sources, building a detailed picture of inmates and Security Threat Groups online connections and relationships to optimize investigations.

When DOCs combine OSINT with artificial intelligence (AI), the results are further amplified. By enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of data collection, analysis and intelligence development, AI automates the investigative process, providing the DOC with ongoing situational awareness surrounding potential threats to facility, inmate, and staff safety.

The DOC community can take advantage of these capabilities for a force multiplier effect, utilizing limited resources where they are most needed to enhance undermanned and understaffed corrections teams.

AI and OSINT in action

AI-powered intelligence provides continuous monitoring of the online activities of Security Threat Groups and their co-conspirators. This proactive approach can assist in identifying compromised employees and potential threats to DOC operations prior to their escalation.

Correctional officers can use AI and OSINT together to rapidly analyze information, generating insights that can be shared both internally and externally by law enforcement agencies. With this capability, decision makers are provided with strategic, operational, and tactical intelligence impacting the safety of officers, inmates, and the community.

Additionally, DOC leaders can use OSINT and AI to effectively interdict contraband before it reaches a facility’s population. Inmates use contraband cell phones to help smuggle in drugs and weapons, organize attempts to escape, or order crimes to be committed “on the street.” OSINT can help prison intelligence officers build a detailed picture of an inmate’s online connections and relationships to pinpoint individuals who are bringing contraband into the facilities, and those who might be tied to criminal activity.

DOC investigators’ ability to quickly collect, develop and disseminate intelligence on gang affiliations helps strengthen partnerships with federal, local and state law enforcement agencies.

Furthermore, OSINT can aid in the prevention of conflicts in prisons and help diffuse the potential for violence among inmates or toward corrections officers by identifying potential threats before they occur.

Technology to recover escaped inmates

Knowing an escaped inmate’s inner circle is vital to tracking the individual down. OSINT can narrow down this list in minutes, saving agents precious time when it matters most. For a fugitive on the run, connections and resources are the difference between remaining at large or returning to custody. OSINT and AI can help investigative units uncover an escapee’s closest connections and make informed decisions with a high degree of probability which person the inmate will seek assistance from.

Considering the substantial risk posed to public safety when an inmate escapes, the substantial resources needed to manage such situations, and the intense media scrutiny that follows, it is imperative for correctional agencies to embrace methodologies that enable comprehensive data-referencing and validation. Correctional agencies that incorporate AI-powered OSINT stand to gain valuable deep insights and analyses. These technologies are invaluable for enhancing their ability to proactively prevent and effectively manage similar incidents in the future.

Moving forward

Ensuring security and safety in correctional facilities is an ongoing process. Adopting and integrating OSINT and AI into DOC operations is vital to investigation and safety process improvements. OSINT represents a promising path forward. By aggregating and analyzing data from across the public, deep and dark webs, this capability can strengthen DOC security postures. They enable a shift from reactive to proactive investigations, offering predictive capabilities based on identified trends and patterns. DOCs that invest in these capabilities now can gain significant long-term benefits, including enhanced access to online threat intelligence that allows for more effective risk identification and proactive responses.

About the author

Mark Wasson, Solution Engineer, North America at Cobwebs Technologies. Mark has over 20 years of hands-on experience in all aspects of state and federal corrections. Mark began his career with the Kentucky Department of Corrections and served as a corrections officer, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, classification and treatment officer, probation and parole officer, Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT/CERT Regional Commander), internal affairs lieutenant and internal affairs branch manager. Wasson also received a HERO Award and Officer of the Year while at the Kentucky Department of Corrections. Mark has since specialized in assisting multiple law enforcement agencies and their partners on a national level in building and training their intelligence, contraband interdiction, digital forensics, drone and mobile assessment programs utilizing new technologies.