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Smart technologies can help buildings cut energy costs, increase their value and help them be better at whatever they are trying to do. By using smart technology to serve the specific objectives of a building; schools can teach better, offices can be more productive, and hospitals can cure more people. If your building is a prison, then smart technology also promises to help you, but in some quite unique ways.

Prisons, are mainly about security but unlike most building security, prisons are primarily concerned about keeping people in, rather than keeping them out. This creates a complex and unique smart security challenge for vendors and contractors. To make correctional facilities more secure, from inside and out, the smart technology sector puts forward its full arsenal of security products – from surveillance cameras to signal blockers and even radar.

“A smart corrections facility creates a performance infrastructure that embraces emerging technologies to enable a safer environment for corrections officers and inmates. These emerging technologies include improvements to perimeter lighting and fencing and the ability to intercept illegal mobile phone calls and drone activity, deterring criminal activities directed from within a corrections facility,” says Phillip Lowery, director of state government at Johnson Controls.

Johnson Controls is well positioned for this market after merging with Tyco International “one of the world’s leading suppliers of Physical Security and Fire Safety equipment,” to create “a $30 billion revenue company,” our security report The Physical Security Business 2016 to 2021 explains in great detail.

Smart prisons, like any smart building, can benefit from energy efficiency. They may even benefit more than most, considering the rising costs, limited finding and growing prison population, in the US at least. The US penal system is bursting – in fact the US prison population is the highest of any country with over 2 million – so any initiative that helps reduce costs will be a significant bonus for the prison administrators, and also the government and the taxpayer.

“Like other agencies within state government, the Department of Corrections demands safer, more comfortable and sustainable environments. Meanwhile, because of an ever-increasing population, correctional spending continues to demand a larger share of tax dollars. Unfortunately, the funding is just not available, forcing administrators to look for innovative solutions to reduce energy costs, relieve deferred maintenance issues and improve infrastructure without the use of taxpayer dollars. A smart facility also implements vocational programs to reduce recidivism and avoid the rising cost of housing inmates.” Lowery said.

Some prisons have also started considering their impact on the environment and finding cost effective ways to makes their facilities greener. The Rimutaka prison in New Zealand, for example, has turned shipping containers into prison cells and showers as part of a solution to overcrowding, while also recycling the containers for environmental benefit. Containers as cells are able to house new inmates at half the cost of building traditional cells.

Smart technology is providing potential future inmates some positives however, through comfort and rehabilitation. In fact this is the key to “making prisons better.” While going to prison is a punishment, the facility itself has a responsibility to help inmates improve themselves and prepare to be reintroduced into society. While inmate comfort may be counterproductive in the eyes of many, comfort as a reward for good behavior would have fewer critics. Smart technology has been mastering occupant comfort in other settings, so why not prisons?

“Inmates are living in our facilities, so providing for their comfort is a concern. Interestingly, many corrections agencies across the country provide heating but do not provide conditioned air within inmate housing pods. As an incentive to promote good behavior, some of these institutions reward exemplary inmates with air-conditioned pods, making comfort a privilege you earn rather than a right you demand,” explains Lowery.

The 362-bed maximum-security Stanton Correctional Facility in Fairfield, California, provides a modern, high-tech environment that is efficient to operate and equipped to treat medical and mental health issues. Each of the facility’s officers is armed with a handheld PDA, giving them full control over the doors and functions of a group of inmate housing units.

“With the use of the PDA, the staff has the ability to operate in any portion of the facility and will no longer be tied to a specific geographic location. They’ll be able to walk into a unit, have that PDA sync up and be able to control the lights, the water and to speak over the intercom, and still be mobile to continue the function of their job,’ The facility’s Lieutenant, Mitch Mashburn, explains. “Operational flexibility is what it provides.”

While David Crotty, project manager for the design firm HOK, says that, “with many strategically located cameras, the design will allow the facility to be safely and securely operated by a very small group of officers – one that the county can afford. You’ve heard the term ‘smart house.’ Well this is a ‘smart jail.”

In an interesting twist, we have also seen smart technology helping in a more direct way. Johnson Controls has developed a vocational program called Green HVAC for inmates in the Virginia and Louisiana Departments of Corrections who are scheduled to be released within a few years. The curriculum, which focuses on managing facilities more efficiently and sustainably, is taught through a modern learning lab that features HVAC equipment and controls, complete with desks and white boards for instructor-led training. To date, 70% of inmates that participated in the program obtained employment upon completing the program and are impacting recidivism rates in a positive way.

Safeguards will have to put in place of course, and there is not enough discussion happening on cyber security as usual. However, technology is proving that there is a smarter way to design our prison facilities.

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