On the inside and out – security in correctional facilities

Man in handcuffs - correctional facilities

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Ray Gregory, Southwest Regional Sales Leader, Zenitel Americas, explores how audio is essential to prison security.

Security in correctional facilities

For most people, jail, prison and correctional facilities rank highly on the list of places to avoid.

Yet, in the US, around 1.23 million people were imprisoned in 2022.

That is a slight increase from the previous year, when 1.2 million people were in prison.

Crimes that were committed included murder, manslaughter, illegal drug possession, burglary, theft, driving under the influence, property crimes and more.

Prisons and correctional facilities have typical security concerns such as surveillance, visitor management, crime and theft.

Yet they also have concerns that many facilities typically do not have, such as overcrowding, hostage situations, fighting, gangs, contraband and more. 

Security teams must always be on guard and watching every individual and action of the inmate population – for an inmate’s physical safety – in addition to their own.

It is not uncommon for security staff and correctional facilities officers to receive physical injuries from prisoners, especially when trying to break up an inmate fight or transporting them to other locations.

Clear communications

Video surveillance is a necessary security technology for teams in prisons and correctional facilities.

IP video allows a security team to remotely see anywhere an IP camera can be placed on a network.

With a video management system, security teams can see what is happening and decide how to respond.

However, with remote viewing, the event may be over by the time security physically responds. Video surveillance footage is also not interactive, as it only records the event.

Access control is an additional essential component, as well, as it can either allow or deny access, but it too, is limiting.

Security guards and teams need to clearly communicate to departments, inmates, visitors and staff within the facility, at all times.

Integrating audio with video surveillance and access controls gives security teams an interactive and proactive solution. It’s adding “ears” to a security team’s “eyes”, which are important tools to have in any situation.

Within prisons and detention centers, audio brings video and access control together and the result is a well-rounded and responsive system that offers actionable insight into potential threats.

Audio’s specific benefits

Using video alone, it can be difficult for prison or correctional facilities security teams to distinguish different emotions.

For example, laughter and louder voices can appear to be increased emotions or aggression, which could lead to a false alarm and wasted time.

Audio can also detect sounds that should not be heard in prisons or correctional facilities, such as gunshots or breaking glass.

Used in conjunction with a video management system, once the sound is sensed, audio can send an alert to security to investigate.

The absence of sound can also be used to indicate potential issues.

For example, if a machine that is used for safety or security is running and creating white noise and it suddenly malfunctions or shuts down, audio sensors can alert someone to investigate.

Overall, audio adds context to every situation to ensure that it is handled correctly. 

Indoor communications

What are the specific ways that audio solutions such as IP intercoms can be used to mitigate safety and security threats inside prisons and detention centers?

As access control: intercoms and speakers can provide efficient audio and video assistance for visitors and controlled access for doors, gates and airlocks.

They can be integrated with access control systems, video management systems and other security solutions.

As visitor management: intercoms that are placed in visitor areas where conversations can be granted, monitored and recorded from a control center.

For cell communication and monitoring: vandal-resistant intercoms can be configured to support emergency calls or radio feeds.

Many solutions support scream alarm, tamper alarm, audio monitoring and entertainment functions.

Switchboard communications: IP intercoms can easily be integrated with prison management systems, to enhance a guard’s insights into situations and events in cells and sections.

Calls can be forwarded manually or automatically to other control desks, intercom stations and more.

The intercoms can receive calls, make announcements, process alarms and events, and monitor radio traffic.

In-building communication: for roaming guards, common areas, clinics and infirmaries, control rooms and more.

Protecting the perimeter

Protecting the inside of prisons or correctional facilities is one challenge that can be overcome with audio solutions.

Protecting the outside of the facility and its often-large perimeter is a very different story.

Individuals can approach a fence from the exterior and throw packages that contain pre-paid cell phones, drugs, weapons and other contraband into the prison grounds.

Layers of protection often include electrified fences, microwave detection systems, motion sensors, video surveillance cameras and more.

IP speakers integrated with other security technology is the best way to protect a correctional facilities’ perimeter.

For example, IP speakers can be used for two-way communications, to broadcast live or prerecorded messages at the fence line and perimeter to warn people to move away.

Security teams can provide direction and the individuals can hear and talk back to them.

If the situation is fluid, the message can quickly be altered.

It’s even possible to use individual zoning technology to customize messages to specific areas, as the situation unfolds.

Loud and clear

In prisons and correctional facilities, only voice and audio solutions via IP intercom and IP speakers can effectively secure it, inside and out.

Audio solutions that are combined with traditional security technologies will deliver an interactive and effective solution that mitigates security and safety risks.

Simply put, a silent security system in today’s prisons and correctional facilities cannot be an effective system. It’s time to incorporate audio into every prison security system.

About the author

Ray Gregory is the Southeast Regional Sales Leader for Zenitel Americas, covering the US states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

He is also an experienced electrical system professional with experience with power distribution, voice data networks, fire alarm, HVAC controls, building and system integration, IP video surveillance and more.

This article was originally published in the Special February Influencers Edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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