3 Selling Points That Will Help Your Staff Accept New Technology
Let’s start off with complete transparency, we know technology hasn’t always been a knight in shining armor. We have all had our fair share of tech fails. Remember the time your computer updated its settings right before you needed to jump on a conference call? Or when your Wi-Fi shut off as you were about to turn on your Xbox? Or when Apple did you dirty when you meant to text your mother but Auto-Correct had another idea? Think about how the era of COVID-19 has proven that even after millions of virtual meetings, technology can sometimes be a total flop. It doesn't come as a surprise that technology can sometimes lead us astray and although having the excuse “I was having some technical difficulties” is a fair defense to keep in your back pocket, it can only be used so many times. We can’t let our past technology mishaps determine how we utilize technology in the future. In addition, we also can’t allow ignorance to take the reins when discussing new technology either, which unfortunately is the reason for the majority of the pushback from officers in a correctional setting.
When it comes to the idea of implementing new technology in a jail, prison, or juvenile detention facility, you will notice two different audiences that will be on opposite sides of the debate. One side will love the idea of modernizing and improving daily operations while the other side will loathe the idea of changing the way of doing things they’ve done for years. And although it’s encouraging to see the enthusiasm of the officers who are ready to make the switch, the skepticism from the officers not in favor is 100% valid. It’s completely logical to be hesitant about transitioning to electronic logging as some officers may find it difficult to keep up with the latest technological innovations. In spite of the fact that it’s reasonable to be hesitant, these are the officers that need to be encouraged the most. In complete transparency, the more stubborn officers are about adapting to new technology tools, the more likely they are to run into some hiccups during the implementation and training process, further discouraging them from learning about the new tools.
So, how can we encourage staff that are fearful about the transition to digital learning and transformation? Let’s review a few of the many benefits that come out of using advanced technology in a corrections environment. The reasons listed below may sound familiar as we compare them to the first technologically-advanced items we implemented in our everyday lives years ago, such as the Maps or Weather app on your mobile phone. See what just happened? You just realized that apps you probably use every single day were once “advanced technology” to you when they were first downloaded, but now you just consider them part of your normal routine. NEWSFLASH - the same can happen with the technology inside of your correctional facility.
1. Improved Communication & Access to Information
Remember when you bought your first cell phone? How long did it take for you to realize that you had the power in your palm to call anyone from anywhere with just a couple of taps on the screen? You didn’t have to solely rely on your landline phone for communication purposes. No longer did you have to remember phone numbers or catch yourself from walking too far away from the location in which it was installed. The first few times using a cell phone felt like a power trip! There was so much you could do from anywhere you wanted, all powered by a little device that could fit in your hand. Cell phones were a monumental milestone in improving communication. From there, technology advanced further over time and eventually birthed smartphones, tablets, social media platforms, and the list goes on. Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to stay connected with loved ones, no matter where they are in the world. Needless to say we, as humans, have grown to rely on the ease of communication. Whether it’s as simple as emailing your boss saying you’re running behind or calling your buddy to grab a beer after work, we take the ease of use of our cell phones for granted. Being able to click a couple of buttons and suddenly talk to someone who lives anywhere in the world in a matter of seconds is something we now expect rather than wish for. We’ve taught ourselves to live a life that circulates around the ease of communication. Why should this kind of communication be any different for officers to communicate inside of a corrections setting? Let’s rephrase that - why should it be any different for officers to communicate, especially inside of a corrections setting?
Effective communication is essential in any jail, prison, or juvenile detention environment. Knowing what officer is working in what pod and performing what duties is part of what makes facility operations run smoothly. However, only tracking these details on paper isn’t useful when it comes to needing to know an important piece of information at the drop of a hat. Have you ever been in an urgent situation where you needed to immediately find the log that documented which officer offered a meal to an inmate on a specific date? Were the time and location documented in that log? Could you even read the log on the crumpled piece of paper it was scribbled on? This is a prime example of how technology can improve communication between staff members. For example, using technology that automatically uploads its logs electronically to the facility’s Cloud gives all team members a centralized location to stay updated on facility operations. That’s right - one centralized location. This kind of technology was purpose-built to make accessing data faster and easier. Correctional staff already have their plates completely full, the last thing they should have to worry about is sorting through mounds of paper in order to find a simple piece of information. Having one unified digital area that can track real-time facility activities, such as what supplies were distributed or if inmate meal and recreation offers were accepted or declined, allows front-line staff and supervisors alike (or whoever is granted access) to quickly review and assess how the facility’s logging is currently performing or has performed in the past. There are even some technology features that can dive deeper into the data captured by using interactive dashboards and dynamic filtering. These features can help isolate operational issues, find actionable insight, check compliance, review round randomization, and so much more.
Using technology tools, such as those that upload data to the Cloud, helps keep tabs on all officer and inmate activity in the facility. Not only does this help with performance coaching by further pushing the communication objective between administrators and supervisors with their teams, but hours upon hours of time (and mounds of paper!) are saved by not manually searching through paper logs for needed information. This type of technology makes reviewing and managing data more accessible than ever and in return allows officers to be supported by supervisors by communicating the necessary information.
2. Enhanced Safety & Security
The first videotape recorder was invented in the 1950s and was built to replace motion picture film stock. Once recorders were largely used in television studios or for televised sporting events, they became available to the public to purchase as handheld devices. Video recorders were a popular item used to capture the moments of a wedding ceremony or a baby’s first steps. But of course, the video recorder's popularity decreased as new waves of technology stepped into place over time. Nowadays, we can easily snap photos and videos on our smartphones without thinking twice. But it’s not that easy for those who work inside of a correctional facility. Instead, facilities have historically relied on their camera surveillance systems to help monitor inmate behavior or capture an activity taking place that wasn’t supposed to. Although camera security systems are considered technology, it’s the newer advancements that sound intimidating to staff that don’t realize the potential of how it can increase facility security. For example, camera systems may be able to identify a safety concern quickly, but an advancement such as a biometric identification system can help ensure that only authorized personnel are allowed into secure areas. By using newer, cutting-edge technology such as the biometric identification system, officers can feel more confident that they are able to provide a safe and secure environment for everyone in the facility.
Ensuring the care, custody, and control of everyone inside a facility, staff and inmates alike, has always been one of the largest key components of corrections. Correctional officers are responsible for feeding, clothing, and protecting those in their custody and have to be able to trace their steps in the chance they are claimed to not have provided these items. Officers are trained to document every interaction they have with an inmate to protect themselves from a civil litigation case. By doing so, they have proof that they did indeed provide food, clothing, and a safe environment for inmates. Considering correctional facilities traditionally document this information on paper, there are countless stories that include how the documentation was lost, ripped, spilled on, or impossible to read. Can illegible documentation (assuming it even exists) protect the facility from being sued? In most cases, probably not.
Technology tools, on the other hand, that are built to document officer and inmate activity in real time are also usually built to not be tampered with. Once a log has been completed on a digital device that stores information in the Cloud, it can’t be adjusted in the slightest. Whatever information and details an officer included in their log will be time-stamped and saved as it was completed. Now, this can be viewed as a positive feature to some, and a negative feature to others. For those who don’t like the idea of not being able to edit their work after submitting it, challenge yourself to answer, why is this a problem? Is it because having an electronic round system identifies gaps of work? If so, you’re not the first one to have this mindset. There are stories of agencies that have thrown in the towel on electronic jail check systems and have gone back to the old-school way of documenting jail checks with pen and paper solely because the electronic system was pointing out the work they weren’t doing. Yes, you read that correctly. When these facilities were asked why they switched back to using pen and paper after implementing electronic round systems, they responded, “We failed our jail inspection.” When asked to elaborate on this, they said, “Our electronic rounds system highlighted my agency’s late officer rounds causing us to fail our jail inspection. The technology increases our liability, so we went back to pen paper.” Yes, you read that correctly, again. There are facilities that stopped using technology because their electronic system highlighted their late jail checks which ultimately caused them to fail their jail inspection. Now, does that sound like a technological device problem or an entirely non-technical problem?
The purpose of implementing technology inside correctional facilities is not to point out the gaps in order to catch a staff member red-handed or to point blame toward a certain team. The purpose is to identify the areas that need improvement. From that point, it’s up to the management team how they want to address the problem. It’s important to note that when technology does isolate the areas that need attention, it helps your team catch it and figure out how to fix it, further increasing the safety and security parameters in the facilities. Those facilities without the electronic tools that point out their flaws have their liability in deeper water than those facilities with the tools.
3. Heightened Support
The first Google definition of the word “support” is: bear all or part of the weight of; hold up. However, this definition isn’t totally applicable to the kind of support we’re talking about but can make sense in some respect as the meaning of support we’re going to talk about does in fact “hold up” an agency from crumbling apart. Here, the meaning of support is two-fold in how it can help your staff accept new technology. In one sense, support means the training that some technology companies offer to their new clients while onboarding or implementing the new product. As mentioned earlier, we understand that officers who are used to doing something in a specific way may be nervous about using new technology, especially if they haven’t had much experience with it in the past. That’s why it’s so important to ensure that the technology you’re looking to purchase has a team that provides training and support for staff members who are still learning. This can include hands-on training sessions, online courses, instrumental videos, site visits upon request, and more. Additionally, most technology vendors offer technical support and customer service for an extended period of time after their initial training, in case of any issues or questions that may arise later on. By taking advantage of these resources, officers can feel more comfortable and confident when using the new technology.
In the second sense of the two-fold, support refers to how your agency can defend itself against any litigation claims by having strong digital proof of documentation. If you work inside a jail, prison, or juvenile detention setting, you’re fully aware that if there is a claim brought against you by an inmate, you are then responsible for locating the proof that shows you conducted a check with said inmate by being physically present in front of them or their cell and have the accurate, detailed documentation of every interaction you had with them. For example, think about the ridiculously tedious process of finding a copy of a log from your Ad-Seg unit from two years ago of one specific inmate who claimed he was denied a meal. Can you imagine how many hours, days, or weeks that would take to locate? Now imagine how long it would take to find a computer and pull up a digital copy of the report in the specific timeframe you selected. You can filter the report by name, date, housing unit, and whatever else information you’re looking for, and within a few seconds, you have your report.
Director of Desoto County Adult Detention Center in Hernando, Mississippi, Chad Wicker, implemented groundbreaking digital inmate tracking in his facility years ago and still raves to this day about how it has protected his facility from litigation claims. Chad uses a specific story of how digital logging saved his facility from a lawsuit that was filed against his staff by an inmate who claimed to not have received proper medical care.
Within five minutes I was able to pull a digital report detailing every interaction the offender had with medical staff as well as the offender refusing items such as meals and medication. I could then send it directly to our attorney. He assured me that the case would be resolved with nothing else being needed from my staff.Chad WickerDirector of Desoto County Adult Detention Center in Hernando, Mississippi
Although our definitions of the word “support” don’t exactly match up with Google’s first definition of “bearing all or part of the weight,” it is parallel to what support means in corrections. Having proper training for your staff and solid defensibility to protect your team is the kind of support you need in order to stay afloat in this industry.
As many reasons as officers can come up with about not wanting to use new technology in their facility, you now should have as many (or more) reasons to counter with. We understand after years of performing duties in a certain way, of course, it sounds intimidating to switch things up and start using new advanced tools. However, it’s up to the staff who are passionate about making the change to encourage their team members to trust the process and jump on the tech train. Using advanced technology in a corrections setting is one of the most beneficial and proactive management techniques an agency can do for itself. Having improved communication and access to information, enhanced safety and security, and heightened support are only scratching the surface of what technology can do to transform a facility’s operations. As the world becomes increasingly digitized and the use of technology continues to rise just as fast as the growth of individuals entering the criminal justice system, it’s crucial for officers to embrace it and use it to their advantage.