Technology in corrections: Increasing efficiency, enhancing safety and addressing officer retention
The advancements that technology management systems have to offer are too significant to be ignored
By Ken Dalley
There have been many changes in corrections over the past two years. Experts estimate that the digital transformation timeline of the industry jumped ahead six or seven years from March to December of 2020. Technology is being used in corrections in more ways than ever before, however, there is still much to be done to support its adoption.
There are many reasons why a corrections facility wouldn’t think technology integration is the right direction for them. In particular, high turnover rates among correctional officers can make routine hardware or software training seem daunting. Conversely, a facility might be hesitant to deploy technology because it might upset the status quo of what is expected of their teams. It's understandable why facilities are hesitant to adopt new technology. Nevertheless, moving from paper to technology has the power to solve many of those exact concerns.
Correctional officer retention and safety
The job of a correctional officer is no easy feat. Officers risk their lives every day to keep not only the staff of a correctional facility safe but also the inmates who occupy them. The labor shortages of 2022 have not helped ease these pressures either. As facilities lose staff, safety risks increase exponentially. Fortunately, technology has the power to help make officer jobs safer and more streamlined. By digitizing records, cell checks, surveillance and inmate tracking, officers have more time to complete their tasks. When officers are not rushed to complete paperwork or rounds, they can afford to be more diligent and thorough, creating safer facilities.
According to a survey by One Voice United, an organization dedicated to promoting the needs of correctional officers, staffing levels and work-related dangers are among the highest-rated concerns of corrections professionals. While 80% of officers reported that the incarcerated population is increasing at their facility, 98% reported that officer staffing levels are decreasing. Without effective and efficient technology implementation, the effects of these statistics could become even more dangerous. It is important, now more than ever, to consider the job satisfaction of these officers and ensure their safety is the top priority.
Organization and time savings
The corrections industry has many records that need to be accurately stored and referenced often. When technology is used for record-keeping, officers can avoid spending hours (at a minimum) looking for a log sheet that may have gone missing. It isn’t unusual for an officer to arrive for his or her shift to a pile of new inmate bookings, officer activity reports, food service logs, special watch logs and medical logs.
To help ensure a facility is working at the highest levels of efficiency, officers must be able to pull relevant documents seamlessly and error-free. Particularly in instances of lawsuits and medical emergencies, the ability to pull information quickly can be a matter of life or death, money and time. Using digital record keeping, officers can record, store and reference records with confidence and avoid losing records along the way. If an attorney enters a facility and requests information on their client, an officer can quickly address the request and move on with their busy day.
Using technology for record-keeping also helps with requests from neighboring agencies. With digital records, an inmate transfer request or a report on an inmate’s behavior can be generated quickly and sent on. For example, if an inmate has a known history of suicidal ideation and is transferred to a new facility, the original facility is responsible for communicating this information, along with any medical health records, to the new facility staff. The new facility can then take the appropriate precautionary steps, like a suicide watch, rather than place the inmate in the general population. Communication is key, and why it’s important that information and records be convenient to distribute.
Change is hard, and leaders may think they are setting up their teams for failure when introducing new technology. But sometimes the most intimidating part of introducing new technology is wondering if your team will accept and adapt to the change. Many teams are surprised at how seamless a new technology roll-out can be. This is partly because many correctional technology tools include features and functionality that officers are already familiar with from consumer technology, such as smartphones or tablets.
Flashback to 2020, when the idea of masks and social distancing inside correctional facilities were difficult concepts for many officers to get their heads around. How could officers ensure that inmates were following social distancing guidelines while social distancing themselves? Would each facility have enough masks for every inmate and officer? These questions were scary and had serious implications. Similar to adopting new technology, adapting to these changes meant clearing many hurdles. Yet, the industry was able to jump into the unknown and address these issues head-on.
Across the corrections industry, I have had the pleasure to interact with some of the bravest men and women law enforcement has to offer. While technology adoption may seem to bring up a batch of daunting questions, the advancements that technology management systems have to offer are too significant to be ignored. Change can be scary, but not as scary as a correctional facility not taking every possible step to ensure the safety of their officer and inmate populations. The repercussions of this practice can be catastrophic – even deadly. Protect your facility by making the change, and get your team home safely.
About the author
Ken Dalley is the founder, chair and chief warrior of GUARDIAN RFID. He has pioneered inmate tracking technologies for U.S. correctional facilities for nearly 20 years, focusing on leveraging technology to protect the 480,000 correctional officers who defend our nation’s jails and prisons.