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Los Angeles County Jail Tests Prisoner Radio ID Tags

by John E. Dannenberg

The Los Angeles (L.A.) County Sheriff's Department will spend $1.5 million to install a computerized radio ID tag system in 2006 to monitor the location of 1,900 prisoners at the Pitchess Detention Center (county jail) in Castaic.

The radio-linked wristbands work inside the jail structure, pinpointing prisoners' location to within a few feet. Outside of structures, it will be necessary to utilize Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to monitor prisoner movement. A variant of the radio tag system permits locally transported control units to be taken to any remote locale, such as for work-release crews, to create a virtual" prison that is outside the walls. The technology had a pilot test at the minimum security unit of California's Calipatria State Prison. Calipatria's spokesman Lt. Ray Madden recounted an incident two years ago where investigators retraced prisoners' movements to prove that an unlikely suspect in a wheelchair was in fact the perpetrator in a stabbing incident.

L.A. County Sheriff's spokesman Marc Klugman anticipated expanding the system, manufactured by Arizona-based Technology Systems International (TSI), to cover 6,000 prisoners at the L.A. County Central Jail. Some 200,000 prisoners pass through the L.A. County Jail every year, where several thousand must be moved daily for court appearances. Last year there were 1,330 incidents of violence resulting in injuries to 1,742 prisoners and 88 jail staff; five prisoners were killed. (See: PLN, Apr.2005, p.16.) TSI estimates a lucrative potential U.S. market of $1.5 billion for their TSI PRISMTM radio tag systems. However, Harinder Singh, technology director for the California Department of Corrections, anticipates newer technology that could surpass TSI's. He showed interest in the Wheels of Zeus, Inc. system that combines radio tags with GPS in a single unit. The latter system is made by a Los Gatos, Calif. firm headed by Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wosniak.

Other states are interested, too. Michigan's Bureau of Juvenile Justice has used a $1 million system at a maximum security ward since 2003, and is testing a second installation. Ohio's Department of Corrections has pilot programs at a minimum security facility in Chillicothe. Illinois is monitoring 1,900 prisoners at Logan Correctional Facility.

An intriguing side-benefit of this technology is that the historical location-data could be subpoenaed as evidence in assault and failure-to-protect suits prosecuted by prisoners.

Source: Pasadena Star News.


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