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Technology selection is your responsibility.

Correctional administrators are sometimes naive about technology and its uses and have a tendency to shy away due to its complexity. After all, we are not architects, engineers or electronics experts. Nevertheless, we do need to understand the technology selection process because we are the people ultimately responsible for running our prisons and jails. We are the "keepers of the keys."

The essence of technology selection is decision making. It is really very similar to the process you use to make "low-tech" decisions. Administrators usually are quite comfortable handling questions such as: Do you need single or double cells? Which floors should be carpeted? Where are bright colors a good idea? What kinds of windows, doors, bar gates and toilets are appropriate?

In addressing these issues, you do not simply meet with the architects to discuss your operational philosophy and then let them make the design decisions alone. These decisions are policy decisions; they cannot be left to consultants, architects and engineers. You know how you operate, so you must be involved.

The same principle applies to technology selection. Questions here include: What kind of intrusion alarm system should you have on your perimeter? What technology best suits your locking, internal security, communications and fire-safety needs? Again, the answers depend on operational issues such as your security classification, staffing patterns, response time, method of operating, programs, training and maintenance policies--and you should make the decisions.

Although technology can be intimidating, we should recognize that the process of selecting products is not a new one, and is standard operating procedure for building design. Your role hinges on establishing a good dialogue with the consultants, architects and engineers.

The design process follows a logical sequence--planning, programming, designing, constructing and then activating a facility. This process is no mystery. It takes hard work from all involved in the design and construction process. All have a role in providing the end product. Dialogue, hard work and team involvement are necessary to get the right technology.

Sometimes even after you have selected the appropriate technology, you can run into problems. Here are some possible reasons why: incompetent consultants, insufficient involvement by administrators, changes in a facility's mission, lack of training, improper equipment maintenance, equipment breakdown, and use of the equipment in the wrong place. All these problems can be avoided--again, through dialogue and team work.

As we continue to build prisons and jails, we will rely more and more on technology. So we might as well learn our role and learn to love it. What do we want from technology? I can identify four key things: We want it to work. We want it to last a few years. We want it to do the job it was specified to do. And we want the manufacturer to respond when the system doesn't work.

In New York state, correctional officials are committed to direct involvement in the selection process. In 1983 we formed a product evaluation committee, or PEC, to ensure our technology selection would be a highly objective process. Commissioner Thomas Coughlin appointed the PEC to identify, review, analyze, test and recommend specific technology for various applications. The committee is made up of the department's executive team and staff who work in facilities planning, security and support operations.

A key technology issue is life-cycle cost. Before selecting a product, find out: What is the expected life of the product? What are the annual maintenance costs? Do you have qualified staff to maintain the product? Are annual service and maintenance contracts more cost-effective than in-house maintenance? Does the manufacturer have service contracts or are you on your own once you've purchased the product?

The relative high cost of technology makes it important to keep life-cycle costs to a minimum. Again, these decisions are policy decisions and cannot be left to others to decide. When an administrator tells me he received a bad security system, it usually means he was not involved enough in the system selection process. Important policy decisions probably were left to consultants. We should be aware that our role is defining our program and the consultants' role is specifying technologies based on our program.

Everyone with a stake in the end product should be involved in the process. Visit other jurisdictions to see what they have done and learn from their experiences. Listen to salespeople; they are knowledgeable and can help you identify your needs. And listen carefully to those who use and maintain the technology. Do they have confidence in the system? Ultimately, you must make the final choice--not the consultant, the salesperson, the operator or the maintenance staff.

Technology is cost-effective and can help a facility perform its mission. It should receive the same attention we give other elements in corrections. Let's face it, technology is here to stay.

Technology Resource List

You may wish to contact the following organizations for more information on corrections technology:

* American Correctional Association, Design and Technology Committee, c/o Francis J. Sheridan, New York Department of Correctional Services, State Office Bldg. Campus, Albany, NY 12226; (518) 432-2454.

* American Institute of Architecture, Committee on Architecture for Justice, Attn.: Todd Phillips, Executive Director, 1735 New York Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20006; (202) 626-7366.

* American Society of Testing Materials, Committee on Detention Equipment, 1916 Race St., Philadelphia, PA 19103; (215) 299-5475.

* NASA, Technical Transfer Program, Technology Utilization Division, Attn.: Kevin Jackson, Project Director for the NASA Technology Project, 600 Independence Ave., S.W., Washington, DC 20546; (202) 358-0698.

* National Institute of Corrections, Information Center, 1860 Industrial Circle, Suite A, Longmont, CO 80501; 1-800-995-NICW.

* National Institute of Justice, 633 Indiana Ave., N.W., Room 842, Washington, DC 20531; (301) 251-5500 or 1-800-851-3420.

* U.S. Department of Commerce, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Institute of Technology, Research Information Center, Bldg. 226, Gaithersburg, MD 20899; (301) 975-3052.

Francis J. Sheridan, A.I.A., is director of facilities planning for the New York Department of Correctional Services.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Annual Issue: Architecture, Construction and Design; responsibility of correctional administrators
Author:Sheridan, Francis J.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Previous Article:How direct supervision jail design affects inmate behavior management.
Next Article:Building facilities to allow for future technological improvements.

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