Printer Friendly

California's Technology Committee: a recipe for success.

The mission of the California Department of Corrections is to incarcerate the most serious criminal offenders in a secure, safe, humane and disciplined institutional setting that meets the standards of California law.

The task of providing inmates the necessary services, such as health care, work opportunities, education facilities, vocational training, substance abuse and medical treatment, in a safe environment is a serious challenge. Efficient management of correctional facilities and providing inmates the opportunity to successfully return to society are beset with significant challenges. Equally difficult is providing supervision, surveillance and other necessary services to parolees to reintegrate them into the community, reinforce their lawful behavior and manage the public safety risk that they pose as potential recidivists.

In addition, the threat of escape, violence toward staff and other inmates, riot control, possession of illegal contraband and participation in criminal activities pose a public security and safety risk. To effectively deter inmates' illegitimate activities while incarcerated, technology provides economical and effective means of enhancing security and the efficiency of a prison system.

Security issues in California prisons became a vital concern for a number of reasons, including the escalation of violence in the 1960s and 1970s, which necessitated enhanced security arrangements and resources; a growth in the prison population; the increased volume of contraband flow, which required an effective detection system; and prison staff fewer members necessitating suitable modifications in architectural design of new prison buildings to accommodate fewer staff managing more inmates. The selection criteria for technologies to enhance an institution's security are a complex process and are based on the following considerations:

* Economic value -- overall cost of the technological solution;

* Technology -- direction and level of understanding of the technology;

* Business interest/mission -- capacity of the technology to adequately serve the business interest and mission; and

* Legal/regulatory hurdles -- testing requirements, standardization, conformity to regulations and need for documentation.

Technology Transfer Committee

To achieve increased security through technology, the CDC established the Technology Transfer Committee (TTC) to adopt technological know-how to specific departmental needs. TTC was instituted to plan, design and work out efficient and effective processes and technologies, and bring about standardization in the prison-security arrangements and methods. It surveys, selects, modifies, tests and recommends new technological devices and techniques for the prison system.

The goal of the technology transfer program is to foster the "capacity in the CDC to initiate the development and utilization of advanced technological solutions to institutional problems and enhance the department's capacity to carry out an ongoing technological transfer process."

TTC coordinates and guides the CDC in the adaptation of existing and new technology to solve problems and improve institutional security, operations and management. It also serves as a forum for the presentation of potential technological applications and makes recommendations to the director on those applications. Further, the committee recommends standards and specifications for use in purchasing equipment items and systems, and incorporating technology to facilitate institutional custody, security and control.

TTC is required to comply with penal policy for inmate incarceration formulated in light of changing and diverse demographics, a tough political climate and upward-tilted crime statistics with diminishing resources by selecting and adapting existing new technologies and ensuring their efficient and economic use. This is an onerous new responsibility requiring a different orientation and approach in the administration of the committee.

TTC is comprised of the following staff:

* Assistant deputy director of the CDC Institutions Division (committee chairperson);

* Three regional administrators from the Institutions Division;

* Five field wardens;

* Deputy director of the CDC Parole and Community Services Division;

* Executive officer (staff person to the committee);

* Chief of the Office of Telecommunications; and

* Law enforcement liaison.

Nondepartmental, nonvoting members of TTC include:

* California Youth Authority;

* Deputy director, CDC Facilities Management Division;

* Deputy director, CDC Health Care Services;

* Department of Justice;

* Department of General Services;

* Federal Bureau of Prisons;

* California Highway Patrol; and

* Sandia National Laboratories.

Prison Culture

Prison administration, by its very nature, organization, size, practices and tradition, cannot be very innovative and is slow to adapt to changing social and prison environments. Two fundamentals determine the prison administration. First, it is publicly funded and is governed by government accounting rules and procedures, and annual budgetary constraints comprise an irrevocable feature of its financial base. Second, the prison system is a public service; it is not a profit-motivated, private business. Its administrative practices and procedures, therefore, have to conform to government code.

Private businesses, manufacturers and suppliers of technological devices to law enforcement agencies are required to undertake considerable research to implement technologically advanced, innovative modifications in their equipment to meet rigorous work standards and safety concerns. They find the law enforcement market unattractive, economically less viable and highly constrictive. Therefore, dependable private suppliers of effective technologies suited to the needs of the modern prison system are difficult to find.

TTC is the best answer for devising and providing suitable technologies, procedures and techniques for meeting the security and administrative needs of a modern prison system. It is a research-oriented administrative unit with experienced representatives from diverse disciplines used for surveying, assembling, testing and recommending the adoption of standard technologies, procedures and practices. It combines the skills, know-how and experience of the custodial staff, engineers, technologists, and financial and administrative experts.

Technology and Innovation

The CDC was motivated to optimize the allocation of its resources to manage a diverse and growing population and the growing public and legislative pressure to be more efficient and effective. Traditionally, these resources included facilities, personnel and the funds for operation and expansion. Since 1978, other sources have been identified, such as technology and innovation, that increase efficiency.

Although technology and innovation are often thought of as products, they also include processes and concepts, which may be just as valuable. For example, techniques such as use of best practices manage resources efficiently, produce effective results and accommodate increased correctional populations, often without a commensurate increase in funding.

Innovation means giving an existing technology a different application. The word "new," when applied to technology or innovation, may mean recently developed or it may simply mean new to the organization or unit that is considering its implementation.

California's correctional institutions cover a wide climate and operational range. The character of the weather, terrain and institutional structure and purpose all combine to complicate the task of security system designers and technology selectors. Economic and logistic considerations indicate the use of a universal system, if one can be found, yet security requirements ranging from minimum to maximum over a wide range of weather conditions might well rule out the uni-system approach in many cases.

TTC has been applying sound technical and engineering techniques in its investigations for validation of new technologies so far. Custodial and engineering staff have been developing test procedures and performance criteria for new technologies. The new technologies are tested and the results are presented to the committee for evaluation and recommendation. For all new technologies, the custodial staff have been developing the operational procedures.


The introduction of new transformational technologies often brings about changes in the management and work practices and routines, which require suitable training programs to overcome resistance to change. Once assimilated in the work environment, new technologies, if efficient, are considered a boon. Some of the new technologies may, however, be evolutionary in nature and widely welcomed.

The American Justice Institute issued its report on technology transfer in January 1984. The project was to study the following four TTC objectives:

* Survey and compare the prior application of NASA and other advanced technologies to the problems of perimeter security and personal alarm systems in correctional institutions in and outside of the CDC;

* Work with CDC staff in reviewing prior and existing applications to these problems to determine the implications of this experience for CDC;

* Work with CDC staff on plans to modify and further apply appropriate existing technologies to these problems; and

* Develop and assist in executing plans for applying technologies where possible with funding available from the CDC's operating budget and develop proposals for obtaining funding through agencies at the federal level for the support of further technological applications.

The first formal TTC meeting was held Jan. 19, 1983. In October 1983, the American Justice Institute submitted a proposal at the department's request listing three major TTC objectives:

* Assist the department in the procurement of the personal alarm system;

* Assist the department in developing and implementing policies and procedures to be used in the technology transfer process and the activities of TTC's executive officer; and

* Continue efforts to identify and evaluate contraband-control technology.

When TTC was first assembled, several members of the committee and others within the department were somewhat skeptical of the creation of TTC. The problems faced by the technology transfer process prior to TTC's establishment are demonstrated in the following synopsis experienced by San Quentin State Prison.

While George Sumner was San Quentin's warden in 1978, he became interested in the potential applications of space technologies to prisons. He and J.J. Enomoto, CDC director at the time, contacted NASA, which had an active technology transfer program. Representatives from Ames Research Center, NASA headquarters and the Stanford Research Institute Technology Application Team met with CDC staff to identify new and existing technologies that could assist in planning and operating prisons more safely and effectively.

NASA and Stanford Research Institute staff then visited several California institutions to identify problem areas. Other states soon inquired about the project and NASA and the institute expanded it to a national level involving California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, New York, Texas and Washington. The project identified a number of needs that were common to several institutions that seemed to lend themselves to applications of NASA technology. Although Sumner believed that some of the problems besetting San Quentin at the time could be solved by the various technological applications, he informed NASA personnel that there was little support from other sections of the department.

A comprehensive Stanford Research Institute report, prepared for correctional industries on the feasibility of the manufacture of solar panels, presented a favorable analysis but the Correctional Industries Commission did not approve of the project. Gradually, the project faded out. While NASA did identify some potential technological applications, the correctional agencies did not follow up on them. Summer, therefore, proceeded on his own. He acquired a night scope for use at the minimum-security ranch, where there was indication that inmates were slipping into town at night. There had been a major tunneling escape attempt at San Quentin, and he requested a device that could detect tunneling. NASA provided it, but it was never installed and the area for which it was intended was subsequently paved.

Problems associated with technology transfer at that time was that there was apparently little staff involvement and commitment, no real effort to institutionalize the process and, when Sumner left, the project was forgotten. However, unlike the NASA effort, the review, selection and implementation of new technologies is now in the hands of TTC, which is made up of interested, knowledgeable people who take the assignment seriously. The problems the research project addressed were recognized by the department as serious, and the committee was able to articulate the performance issues and focus on them.


Although a number of goals have been achieved with various technologies, the most significant achievement appears to be the adoption and acceptance of the technology transfer process. The committee has been given a vital role in determining the future use of technology for the department. Technologies selected by the CDC, which have enhanced the security of the institutional facilities, staff and inmates include the following:

* Perimeter security fence (electronic and electrically lethal fences);

* Lethal and less-than-lethal weapon systems;

* Inmate telephone, monitoring and recording systems;

* Contraband detection systems (i.e., walk-through and hand-held metal detectors);

* Selection and implementation of clear products for personal care (e.g., clear soap, shampoo and toothpaste packaged in clear containers);

* Clear property items (tamper-resistant television and radio);

* Escape-prevention equipment and know-how;

* Inmate restraint devices;

* Video arraignment of inmates;

* Telemedicine;

* Protective gear and body armor;

* Retractable needles for health care;

* Biometrics;

* Watch patrol and electronic monitoring of parolees;

* Touch-lock system (staff fingerprint identification system); and

* Personal duress alarm system.

The identification of appropriate new technology and its implementation does not complete the technology transfer process; the application of new technologies requires skillful management as well. Introducing new technology to staff is not easy even when these new methods intend to improve operations. Anticipated and unanticipated consequences of new technology must be addressed carefully and thoughtfully to achieve the full benefits of progress.

The technology transfer process will keep evolving in the CDC, and TTC will continue to seek opportunities to interface and participate with other correctional and law enforcement agencies in making prisons more safe, efficient and effective.

Roderick Q. Hickman is chairman of the Technology Transfer Committee and assistant deputy director of the Institutions Division of the California Department of Corrections. Harinder Singh is executive officer of TTC. Ronald W. Cappel is administrative assistant of the CDC Institutions Division.
COPYRIGHT 2003 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:CT Feature
Author:Hickman, Roderick Q.; Singh, Harinder; Cappel, Ronald W.
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2003
Previous Article:The BOP's videoconferencing network: a cost-effective way of doing business.
Next Article:Biometrics in corrections: current and future deployment.

Related Articles
Custom mixing, services.
Custom mixing, services.
Custom mixing, services.
Cookbook project benefits inner-city school.
Custom mixing, services.
Custom services.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters