Inmate identification helps corrections professionals gain understanding of who they’re dealing with, where the inmate belongs, and their level of classification. Wristbands and ID Cards, the predominant form factors of inmate identification in corrections, deliver the visual confirmation often needed by staff, and can serve as important building blocks for safety, security, and compliance.

This blog breaks down wristbands vs. ID cards, the pros and cons of each, pricing, and tips for maximizing your inmate identification goals.

The Worth Co. Jail in Northwood, Iowa, has an average daily population that ranges between two and five inmates. On quieter days, there may only be one.

Worth County inmates are different from most small, rural, jails in one respect: they all wear ID wristbands.

It’s not because they don’t know who their inmates are. On the contrary, Worth Co. jail staff know their inmates well. When passing inmates Hungry Man dinners, Worth Co. Jail staff have cordial conversations about everything from sports to the weather to their families.

Jail Administrator Teri Horan, adopted wristbands to maintain accurate inmate identification and increase jail safety.

Inmate identification helps corrections professionals build safety, security, and compliance. While most jails the size of Worth Co. wouldn’t likely use wristbands on inmate populations such as hers, jails at some point should consider adopting a form of inmate identification as a visual aid. Wristbands and ID cards can inform jail staff of identity, date of birth, classification level, and other security critical information.

Wristbands are more commonly used by county jails than prisons or juvenile facilities. This is primarily due to the limited useful life of wristbands, which pairs with the average length of time pre-trial adult offenders remain in custody. Pre-trial offenders do not always require long-lasting forms of inmate identification.

ID cards are often the preferred method of inmate identification for sentenced inmates, as well as juvenile detention facilities. They are also frequently adopted by jails when past wristband efforts were unsuccessful, or their inmate identification is influenced by their state’s department of corrections’ use of inmate identification.

So, what are the differences between these two ID form factors? Is one form of identification better than the other?

Let’s cover four main points to compare wristbands and ID cards for inmate and juvenile use:

  1. Cost
  2. Durability
  3. Transferability
  4. Compatible Mobile Solutions - QR code, Barcode, & RFID

At the end, we will also share three tips to maximize wristband success.

Types of Wristbands

There are several wristband types available for offender identification. Each one has different features and methods of assembly.

Printed Wristbands

Printable wristbands are a simple form of inmate identification. This type of wristband commonly has a paper-like feel and frequently made of Tyvek, featuring an adhesive or mechanical closure. Some printable wristbands support existing laserjet printers. Others require thermal printers. No matter its composition, nearly all wristbands support printing the inmate’s name, mugshot, booking number, and date of birth onto the wristband directly.

Since the offender’s identification is printed directly onto the wristband, printable wristbands do not require a rolling laminator.

One common example of printable wristband is the XSM-1-LA from Endur ID. Similar to a patient wristband used in hospitals, this type of wristband is a low-cost, temporary wristband that prints using laserjet printers and fasten with a plastic mechanical fastener.

Laminated Wristbands

Laminated wristbands are constructed by placing printed information onto a label or sheet of paper that fits within an unlaminated pouch.

The wristband is then placed into a protective cardboard sleeve. This protective sleeve goes through a rolling laminator, which heat seals the identifying information into the wristband itself. The bands can be secured with a metal or plastic fastener.

A common example of a laminated wristband is Clincher® from PDC, a Brady Corporation.

Some laminated wristbands are shaped like a tube with openings on the top and bottom, rather than having an open pouch on one side. The inmate’s information label slides in from one end and centered inside the tube. Then, the band runs through the laminator to heat seal the label.

After lamination, an officer uses a machine to trim the ends of the wristband and punch a hole for the fasteners. Then, a riveting tool is used to insert the washers and rivets, securing the band to the inmates’ wrists.

An example of this kind of inmate wristband is the DDSP Armband / Wristband by Pinnacle Technologies, Inc.

Cost

Wristband

The cost of inmate wristbands typically range between $0.45 - $0.85 per band. Below is a breakdown of the pricing for three different wristband options based on market research and interviews with facilities.

Table 1: Cost of Inmate Wristbands/Non-RFID

  ENDUR ID PDC Pinnacle Technologies
Type of Wristband Printed Laminated (Pouch on side of band) Laminated - DDSP Armband (Tube shape)
Additional Hardware (Consumables) Std Desktop Laser Printer
Secur Loc Clasps
Label Printer
Laminator
Crimping tool (metal fasteners
Label Printer Laminator ($575)
Trim, Die, & Hole Punch ($750)
Rivet tool ($300)
Photo ID Cutter ($700)
Size (Width x Length) Standard = 1 in. x 10 in.
X-Large = 1 in. x 12 in.
Standard = 1.25 in. x 11.375  in.
Extra Wide = 1.5 in. x 11.375 in.
1 in. x 10.5 in.
Average Assembly Time < 2 minutes < 3 minutes < 5 minutes
Quantity per case 300 500 (400 for Clincher Extra Wide) 1,000
Cost per Band (includes fasteners) $.72 - $.76 $.45 $.85

*Source of pricing for Pinnacle Technologies found here.

*Source of pricing for Endur ID found here.

ID Card

ID cards can cost as low as $.15 per unit and can be oriented landscape or portrait. Clips (plastic) are often priced separately and can add $.05 per ID card.

The only hardware costs associated with ID cards is the printer. Facilities can use either a single-side or dual side printer. Below are price comparisons for Zebra ID printers.

Table 2: Price of ID Card Printers

  Zebra Single Side Printer
Zebra Single Side Printer / List Price $1,900 $3,130
  Zebra Dual Side Printer
Zebra Dual Side Printer / List Price $2,750 $3,795

*These prices may vary by reseller.

Durability

Wristband

The durability of wristbands are dependent on a few factors--the type of wristband, the type of fastener used, and how well it’s laminated (if applicable).

Table 3: Lifespan of Inmate Wristbands

  ENDUR ID PDC Pinnacle Technologies
Type of Wristband Printed Laminated (Pouch on side of band) Laminated (Tube shape)
Avg. Lifespan (normal wear and tear) 3 - 5 weeks 5 - 7 months 3 - 9 months

Printed Wristbands - Endur ID

The Endur ID inmate wristband generally lasts between three to five weeks with normal wear and tear. However, that time significantly decreases when inmates are more aggressive and determined to deliberately damage or remove their wristbands. According to the Coles Co. Sheriff’s Office, which runs a 115-bed detention facility in Charleston, Illinois, the Endur ID wristbands last no more than four weeks.

According to Coles Co., the problems they experience with Endur ID is with the ease of stretching and distorting the band. Their inmates didn’t like the bands, so they would stretch them out in attempt to remove them. The stretch distorts the printed barcode making it unreadable, and a new band needs to be printed. The facility also experienced issues with water penetration once the band was stretched.

The Krome Detention Center, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Miami, Florida, experienced the same issues with Endur ID. The Endur ID wristbands used on illegal detainees have average useful life of approximately three weeks.

The user experiences by Krome Detention Center and the Coles Co. Jail with Endur ID are not necessary reflective of all Endur ID user experiences.

Laminated Wristbands - PDC

The Clincher wristband by PDC can last 5 to 7 months when properly laminated and using the metal fasteners.

The bands should be laminated at 325℉. Temperatures too high or too low will cause poor lamination and decreased durability. When done improperly, the wristband is more susceptible to water penetration and inmate tampering.

Metal / Plastic fasteners

Western Tidewater Regional Jail, a facility with an average daily population of 633 inmates located in Suffolk, Virginia, was experiencing issues with inmates breaking and stretching the Clincher wristbands. The primary issue was the laminator temperature was too low, making the band unsecure. The lower temperature made it much easier for inmates to stretch and break off their wristbands. Since the temperature fix, they have been experiencing less replacements.

The metal fasteners can be more durable than those made of plastic. A crimping tool is needed for the metal closures, making it difficult for them to be taken apart by inmates. Although not impossible to remove, using metal fasteners greatly increases wristband longevity. Inmates in some jails will bite down on plastic fasteners to break them, then remove their wristband.

Laminated Wristbands - Pinnacle Technologies

On average, the Pinnacle Technologies armband has a useful life similar to the Clincher wristband. The Pinnacle armband is able to withstand inmate tampering relatively well. However, there issues of water leaking inside the wristband. Even after lamination, the ends of the band aren’t always fully sealed. There is also a hole punched into the wristband for the rivets that leaves room for water leakage.

According to the Elkhart Co. Jail, a 1,000-bed facility just outside South Bend, Indiana, there were significant issues with water penetrating the inside of the Pinnacle armband. Inmate workers, especially in the kitchen, needed armband replacements every three to four months. Water would leak into their armbands through the rivet hole and ruin the label. There were accounts of the armbands turning blue from the chemicals and soaps being used by the inmates.

Inmates with less exposure to water required fewer armband replacements. Elkhart Co. commented that on occasion, a few armbands would last an inmate’s entire incarceration.

ID Card

When properly taken care of, an ID card can last for years, but it will typically have a useful life of about 12 to 18 months. That is under the assumption that the inmates are relatively responsible with their ID cards or badges. If bent or used inappropriately, they will need to be replaced more frequently.

ID cards are exposed to water much less often than wristbands. For inmates who work in the kitchen, their wristbands are exposed to hot water, making the band wear down more quickly. ID cards are clipped to the inmate’s uniform, which greatly limits direct moisture contact. This aids in the longevity of the ID card.

However, the printed information can fade over time, requiring a reprint. The quality of the ID card printer will determine how often that occurs. High quality printers that laminate the cards will help keep the ink in place, and only fade with time and sunlight. Low quality printers may help decrease your budget, but it can result in more time and money for reprints. Do sufficient research on your ID card printer prior to purchase to get the best value.

Overall, ID cards typically longer than inmate wristbands, but that requires inmate responsibility. Like wristbands, strong policies and forceful consequences for removing and/or tampering with ID cards will increase the lifespan of each card. Swift consequences for misusing, removing, or damaging an ID card will help increase inmate accountability, and ultimately, prevent or reduce ID card replacement rates.

Wristbands Not Allowed in Courtroom

In certain jurisdictions, judges do not permit pre-trial inmates to wear wristbands into their courtrooms. For example, in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, Honorable Travis W. Livengood began ordering inmates’ wristbands being cut off before entering his courtroom. In light of this rule, Warden Troy Nelson switched from Clincher RFID Wristbands to RFID Cards to save money from having to replace excessive amounts of wristbands.

Transferability

Wristband

When a wristband is properly secured, it is highly improbable for the wristband to be transferred from one inmate to another. Making wristbands “handcuff tight” on each inmate makes it difficult for in-custody individuals to transfer them between one another. It also makes it harder for inmates to stretch or pull at their wristbands.

Tightly apply fasteners, laminate at the correct temperature, and put them on inmates “handcuff tight” to ensure security of each inmate wristband. If any of those falls short, there’s a chance for inmates to pass off their band to someone else.

Strict, clear policies on the transfering or attempting to transfer wristbands can significantly decrease the frequency of wristband removals and exchanges between inmates. For example, jails will deny commissary, visitation, and outdoor recreation to inmates who don’t have a wristband or were caught exchanging. Clear consequences and loss of privileges encourage inmates to follow your rules. No exception.

ID Card

ID cards aren’t secured to each inmate, making it theoretically easier for them to be passed between in-custody individuals. However, this isn’t the biggest challenge to ID cards.

The biggest challenge corrections professionals face about ID cards is forgetfulness. Inmates will forget to clip their ID card to their uniform (recommended policy) during non-lockdown hours. When this happens, court transports, meal offerings, recreation time, etc. can be interrupted by inmates having to go back to their cells to grab their ID Card first.

Strongly consider adopting a plastic ID card clip. Enforce a rule that requires inmates to wear their ID card at all times during waking hours. It should be presented on the front of their uniform.

The Polk Co. Jail System in Bartow, Florida, issues all inmates ID cards to its nearly 4,000 inmates spread between three facilities: Central Co. Jail, South Co. Jail, and Central Booking. Polk Co. noticed that inmates take pride in their ID cards and even feel important having to wear them. Some think it might be because they look similar to the cards worn by the officers. Wristbands had an opposite effect. The inmates disliked the bands and were inclined to tamper and remove them.

To overcome issues of exchanging and losing ID cards, facilities can put strong policies in place that disciple non-complying inmates. Jails may deny commissary, visitation, or programs to inmates without an ID card. Having clear consequences helps encourage the inmates to be responsible with their cards.

Compatible Mobile Solutions

Wristbands and ID cards are often used in conjunction with mobile inmate management platforms. The three main solutions include QR codes, barcodes, and RFID.

QR codes and barcodes are printed onto the wristband or label insert. RFID requires a physical tag to be inserted into the band to be read by a mobile scanner. So, which solutions are compatible with each form factor?

Wristbands

Printed Wristbands - EndurID

The printed wristbands made by EndurID are only compatible with QR code or barcode systems. The codes are printed onto the wristbands, along with the other inmate information.

The EndurID wristband isn’t compatible with an RFID inmate management platform. Since the wristband isn’t laminated, there isn’t a pouch or opening to insert an RFID tag.

Laminated Wristbands - PDC

PDC’s Clincher wristbands are compatible with QR code, barcode, and RFID systems. The QR codes and barcodes can be printed directly onto the label insert that’s inserted into the band prior to lamination. The RFID tag can be placed inside the unlaminated band along with the label insert. Once laminated, both the label and RFID tag are sealed inside.

When using RFID tags, it’s important to properly laminate each band. Correctly laminated the wristband will ensure no water is introduced inside the band. If an RFID tag is exposed to water, it will short out and no longer function. Once that occurs, officers will need to make a new band.

Laminated Wristbands - Pinnacle Technologies

The laminated wristbands made by Pinnacle Technologies is compatible with QR code, barcode, and RFID mobile platforms. It functions similarly to the PDC wristband--the QR code and barcode are printed onto the label insert, and the RFID tag is placed inside the unlaminated band with the label insert.

One of the downfalls of this wristband is the issue of water penetrating the inside. No matter how well it’s laminated, the rivet hole and porous ends of the Pinnacle Technologies wristband causes water to leak inside. That will cause issues with any of the mobile solutions your jail is using.

The QR codes and barcodes will be affected if the label insert becomes wet. Once enough water penetrates the band and distorts the code, it will no longer be read by a mobile scanner.

As soon as RFID tags are exposed to water, they short out and stop working. If that happens, the tag will need to be replaced and put into a new wristband. For this reason, the Pinnacle wristbands are not recommended when using an RFID mobile solution.

ID Cards

ID cards are compatible with QR code, barcode, and RFID mobile solutions.

The QR codes and barcodes are printed directly onto the card along with the other pertinent inmate information.

If using an RFID system, a facility will need to purchase ID cards that already have an RFID tag embedded inside. The price will increase to roughly $1 per card.

3 Tips for Improving your Wristband Success

No inmate wristband is perfect. None are created to last for an exceptionally long period of time, making wristbands better suited for pre-trial, adult detention facilities rather than prisons. If assembled incorrectly, a wristband’s useful life can be cut short prematurely, lasting only a few days. When done correctly, some wristbands can last upwards of six months or more.

Here are three tips to improving your wristband success.

  1. Maximize the life of the wristbands by laminating properly. For Clincher wristbands, this means that your laminator should be set to 325℉. If your laminator runs frequently (more than 12 hours a day), or is never turned off because of its frequency of use, you should replace the heating element in your laminator every 12-18 months.

  2. Create policies on removing and tampering with wristbands with strong disciplinary actions. For example, jails will charge inmates $10 if they are found damaging or destroying their wristband and need a replacement. Some jails charge upwards of $25. Others, like the Lincoln Co. Jail in North Platte, Nebraska, partnered with their county attorney where inmates face additional charges if found trying to tamper or remove their wristband. Monetary consequences alone are not effective. Create and communicate swift and severe consequences for any incident of non-compliance.

    Sherburne Co. Jail in Elk River, MN was receiving numerous inmate complaints about wristbands. They would say things like, "We can't wait them. They're too uncomfortable." There were wristband policies in place, but not being enforced. In July of 2014, Captain Bloom got tired of all the complaints and decided to wear one himself. For 310 days, Captain Bloom wore a wristband attached on his left wrist with a metal fastener. At first, he "thought [he] would have to rip it off too, but days turned to weeks and weeks turned into months." Having strict wristband policies are only effective if they're being enforced. Captain Bloom's response promoted inmates and officers alike to follow and enforce policy.

  3. Make sure that the wristband is sized correctly. The wristband should be fairly snug, allowing only one finger between the wristband and the inmate’s skin. It’s not uncommon for inmates to frivolously complain that a wristband is too tight. They’ll ask staff to loosen it. Then, staff actually do. Don’t. If you continue this practice, or if your facility has been too agreeable to these requests, the wristbands become fashion accessories that can slide on and off at-will like a bracelet.

Summary

Wristbands

There are three main types of wristbands: printed, laminated with a side pouch, and laminated with a tube-like shape.

Cost

  ENDURID PDC Pinnacle Technologies
Type of Wristband Printed Laminated (Pouch on side of band) Laminated - DDSP Armband (Tube shape)
Additional Hardware (Consumables) Std Desktop Laser Printer
Secur Loc Clasps
Label Printer
Laminator
Crimping tool (metal fasteners
Label Printer Laminator ($575)
Trim, Die, & Hole Punch ($750)
Rivet tool ($300)
Photo ID Cutter ($700)
Size (Width x Length) Standard = 1 in. x 10 in.
X-Large = 1 in. x 12 in.
Standard = 1.25 in. x 11.375  in.
Extra Wide = 1.5 in. x 11.375 in.
1 in. x 10.5 in.
Average Assembly Time < 2 minutes < 3 minutes < 5 minutes
Quantity per case 300 500 (400 for Clincher Extra Wide) 1,000
Cost per Band (includes fasteners) $.72 - $.76 $.45 $.85

Durability

  ENDUR ID PDC Pinnacle Technologies
Avg. Lifespan 3-5 weeks 3 - 7 months 3 - 9 months
Notes
  • Adhesive used to secure band
  • Easily stretched by inmates
  • Stretching distorts barcode, making it unreadable by scanners
  • Stretching made band susceptible to water penetration
  • Secured with metal or plastic fasteners
  • Metal fasteners can be more secure than plastic
  • Laminating at wrong temperature decreases durability and longevity prematurely
  • Stretching makes wristband susceptible to water penetration
  • Band is secure
  • Water tends to get inside of band because of rivet hole
  • Replaced more frequently for working inmates (especially those in Kitchen)
  • Not easily stretched

Inmate wristbands will last longer if there are policies in place that promote compliance. One way to do that is charging a fee for wristband replacements. Some facilities will charge inmates $10 - $25 to cover the cost of the new band and the officer’s time, while enacting swift, severe consequences for non-compliance.

Transferability

Wristbands are difficult to transfer when properly secured on the inmates. To do that, the fasteners must be attached tightly, the lamination must be done at the correct temperature, and they should be “handcuff tight” on the inmates’ wrists. Additionally, having policies and consequences for removing and transferring bands will encourage compliance. Some facilities deny privileges like commissary or programs for inmates without wristbands.

Attaching the wristbands correctly and enforcing strict wristband policies will reduce exchanges between inmates.

ID Cards

Cost

ID cards can cost as low as $.20--price includes the card ($.15) and the plastic clip ($.05). The cost of the ID card printer is more significant. The prices for the printers may vary by brand and reseller.

  Zebra Single Side Printer
Zebra Single Side Printer / List Price $1,900 $3,130
  Zebra Dual Side Printer
Zebra Dual Side Printer / List Price $2,750 $3,795

There are lower cost printers available for purchase. In some cases, lower cost means lower quality, which can negatively affect the durability of the ID card.

Durability

ID cards last between 12 to 18 months if inmates are respectful and responsible. If they are bent, manipulated, or used inappropriately, the cards will need to be replaced more frequently.

ID cards tend to hold up better than inmate wristbands for a couple reasons. One, the cards are exposed to water less often. Two, facilities like Polk. Co. Florida have noticed that inmates like ID cards more than wristbands and are proud to wear them. As a result, they take better care of them than they did their wristbands.

Like with wristbands, placing a monetary fee on ID replacements will deter inmates from ruining their cards. Charging $10 - $25 per replacement will help improve ID card compliance.

Transferability

Because ID cards aren’t secured to inmates, theoretically, they could be more easily exchanged between inmates. But the most common challenge to corrections professionals about ID cards is forgetfulness.

Encourage compliance and responsibility by revoking inmate privileges to those who don’t have their ID card. Consequences that are meaningful to inmates tend to result in higher rates of compliance.

Final Thoughts

Wristbands and ID cards are the most common form factors for identifying inmates. Both have strengths and weaknesses. This doesn’t make one option superior to the other. Each correctional facility has their own requirements and preferences. It is ultimately up to each facility to choose the best form of inmate identification for them.