By Bob Hampe
Posted December 19, 2022
Recidivism is a pervasive issue in corrections. A commonly cited statistic is that, within three years, 68% of formerly incarcerated people are re-arrested. This has an effect not just on the limited capacity of corrections facilities but also on the health, wellbeing and financial prospects of individuals who served time. For these reasons and more, reducing recidivism is a common, ever-present goal for corrections facilities.
Another pervasive issue: promotion of a safe working environment in correctional facilities for the professionals that work there and those in their care.
Often, the solution is to put in more cameras, or adopt another type of technology to increase visibility, speed up response times to duress signals or get real-time looks into what’s happening in corridors, cells, yards or rec rooms. But sometimes, all this expensive technology does little to effect the desired change(s).
I often think about the tension between technology introduction versus technology implementation. My organization works with correctional facilities to install real-time locating systems (RTLS) that improve safety and visibility. After years of working in this industry, I have some insight on what leads to actual and effective technology implementation. Often, it’s about making sure the wearer or user of the RTLS technology sees its value in action—but increasingly, it’s also about making sure there’s not a perceived conflict between the technology and the person using it. In short, technology needs to be seen as a benefit to the user—not as a hindrance to job performance and certainly not as a replacement for employees. And if active tracking systems are used to monitor incarcerated people, it is critical that the implementation is for their good and not yet another restriction.
Introducing RTLS Technology: It Starts With Why
Why adopt any new technology? Why spend the time, money and effort to understand options, sign a contract, go through installation and learn how to make the system work for you?
In short, it’s a value proposition to the individual: Does it make my job or life easier? Sign me up. The second the technology feels redundant, or its value-add isn’t clear, or it’s seen as an encroachment on someone’s livelihood, I can guarantee you this: You as a manager will never get your employees to actually use this solution you have just spent thousands of dollars on.
The use-case is clear when it comes to duress signals. Our fastest-in-the-business alarm propagation doesn’t just make management feel warm and fuzzy inside, it translates to life-saving interventions when and where they’re needed.
But RTLS technology can also be used to improve worker efficiency. In an industry like corrections, which is competing for workers against organizations with similar pay and benefits (like Amazon or healthcare systems), workers are hard to come by. Due to the intense and sometimes dangerous nature of corrections work, the employees you do have need to feel supported—and it’s also essential that management is leveraging all staff members’ problem-solving talent, eyes and skills efficiently. Organizations can use RTLS data to see gaps in coverage, or to understand where backup is located should a conflict arise. However, unless it’s made clear that this tracking technology is there to help make the job easier, some corrections employees balk at the prospect of being “tracked” through the facility.
The solution is to ensure an open line of communication between management and staff: Explain why the tech is being introduced and how it’ll enhance the workers’ lives. It must be made abundantly clear that RTLS is not a replacement for a human—it just supercharges their visibility, response times and efficiency.
What’s Next in Corrections
The team behind every new corrections facility grapples with the same questions of capacity, safety and durability. It’s becoming economically unfeasible to house that many incarcerated people, especially taking into account the sometimes-revolving door of prisons. Our next article dives deeper into questions about the future of corrections—will it be business as usual? Or will we shift to a rehabilitation-focused model like so many other countries have done? No matter what, technology will be part of the transition—and I’d argue, RTLS can play a major role.