RFID inmate tracking systems auto-identify offenders and their movements using fixed or mobile readers. Some inmate tracking systems focus on long-range identification for zone-based inmate tracking.

Zone-based inmate tracking creates invisible thresholds to auto-identify inmates and their respective locations using strategically placed long-range readers that detect or “see” long-range RFID tags. But long-range inmate tracking, particularly Active RFID, has been plagued by big challenges over the past two decades, namely cost, complexity, and high-failure rates.

Has Active RFID's time passed? Is it more reliable today? And what other long-range inmate tracking technologies can rival Active RFID?

How is zone-based inmate tracking different than historical attempts at long-range inmate tracking? Should you consider zone-based inmate tracking, and if so, how do you know if it’s right for your facility? What do you need to know to prepare most effectively, and how can you maximize your success with long-range inmate tracking while mitigating your risk of failure?

History has centered on Active RFID, but is it the future?

The conventional approach to long-range inmate tracking has centered on battery-powered RFID tags, known as Active RFID. For the past several decades, Active RFID was the predominant method of attempting hands-free, long-range inmate tracking. It had Star Trek-like promise. In theory, you could track inmates like planes on a radar map. Coordinates communicated location. Dots visualized the inmate. You could watch the dots interact, walk together, fight together.

But Active RF tags – particularly in wristbands – failed. Alarms triggered falsely, or didn’t trigger when they should have. Inmates tampered incessantly with their wristbands, an unsightly hunk of plastic in the shape of a watchface that needed replacement every 24-48 months because of its finite battery life. Readers that woke up or “excited” the Active RF tags were costly to rollout because of the sheer volume needed for a coordinate-based inmate tracking system that allowed users to track inmates via X and Y coordinates on a digital blueprint that resulted in the “dots” on a screen.

Despite the historical challenges and failures of long-range inmate tracking, the reality is that certain segments of corrections, primarily those facilities maintaining high inmate-to-staff ratios with a large volume of inmate movement – can benefit from long-range, hands-free inmate tracking systems when executed well. Fortunately, technology today offers more than one approach to deploying a long-range, zone-based inmate tracking system.

Next-generation, zone-based Inmate Tracking

Zone-based inmate tracking is a powerful, practical alternative to coordinate-based inmate tracking. And to mitigate the longstanding risk, cost, complexity, and fail rate of Active RF, as offered by companies like Black Creek, 3M, Radianse, and TimeKeeping Systems, GUARDIAN RFID active inmate tracking directly addresses the shortcomings of Active RF called OmniPresence. OmniPresence delivers powerful, long-range inmate tracking capabilities at the fraction of Active RF, and at a markedly lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

So how do you determine whether a long-range, zone-based inmate tracking system is right for you?

Do you:

  1. Have unescorted inmate movements or controlled movements that require verification of inmate arrival and travel time?
  2. Maintain a high inmate-to-staff ratio?
  3. Suspect (or have empirical evidence) to show inmates taking liberty getting from one destination to another?
  4. Are your workflows so heavily dependent on manual or paper-based systems that you cannot determine with any level of precision where inmates are at anytime, or the time and effort to collect and share this information is resulting in delays that may (or are) causing security concerns?

If you answered Yes to at least 3 out of 4 questions, you may find it useful to deploy a zone-based inmate tracking system.

Here are six tips to maximize your success:

1. Get your team’s input on data collection objectives and the intelligence you need to share near and long-term.

Data collection and reporting are exceptionally powerful with long-range inmate tracking systems. Thousands, or hundreds of thousands of tag reads can be captured in mere minutes. Most of that data is simply “noise.” Distilling the data you actually need to a crucial level preserves your ability to see the trees through the forest, and communicate critical, security facts to those who need to know.

For example, system notifications within your zone-based inmate tracking system must trigger intelligently at the speed of light in the event of any violation to movement or attempted movement that breaches any number of parameters. If an inmate from Housing Unit A intentionally enters Housing Unit F to attempt to assault another inmate, a notification must be pushed immediately to nearby staff members or select user groups so that swift action can be taken. If inmates from opposing gangs converge toward the same zone, staff must be alerted quickly to avert potential violence. If an inmate has a call-out to go to medical at 10am from an inmate program, the system must monitor the inmate’s movement to ensure on-time arrival, in addition to verifying that the amount of travel time was acceptable.

Another key factor in successful zone-based inmate tracking systems is to consider the quantity and location of your thresholds, zones, and checkpoints. These are the essential building blocks of a successful inmate tracking system.

What do these terms mean? We’ll explain.

A THRESHOLD is a virtual boundary formed by one or more long-range readers, like ForceField XD that provide a consistent and continuous read zone. A threshold detects a long-range RFID tag across a customizable distance that helps to confirm tag identity, presence, and direction. This means that a threshold is able to identify inmates and their presence, including whether they are entering or exiting a threshold, and which zone they originated from and entered into.

A ZONE is space within a correctional facility that is meaningful to the OmniPresence application. In broad terms, a zone can be a building, a floor, or a pod, hallway, recreation yard, etc. A zone-based inmate tracking system will always place inmates into a virtual box that can be displayed visually on a digital blueprint.

A CHECKPOINT is a type of threshold that enables the application to identify an inmate’s location. It’s essentially a breadcrumb waypoint that confirms presence, and together with other checkpoints, helps to define the path an inmate takes to travel from point A to point B.

2. Strongly consider inmate identification form factor.

Long-range RFID tags are available in wristband or ID badge form factors. Most prisons use inmate ID badges over wristbands for a variety of reasons: proven longevity, lower cost, and lower complexity than having sentenced inmates with high-tech wearables that they’ll try to defeat. Inmates are notorious for not complying with certain instructions, such as keeping wristbands on.

If you’re already using ID badges, a high-tech ID card, such as Universal ID from GUARDIAN RFID, greatly minimizes the amount of change inmates and staff members have to navigate. (Universal ID is a proprietary ID badge that supports simultaneous dual long-range and near field support). And when it comes to transferability concerns: are inmates transferring ID badges now? If not, it’s even less likely to occur with long-range inmate tracking because of the higher level of automated scrutiny each inmate now faces.

3. Consider what role mobile may play in your workflows to supplement your long-range objectives.

The beauty of long-range is that it supports completely hands-free, workflow tracking automation. But, there are circumstances where you’re going to want (or need) to verify a call-out movement, for example, or update an inmate’s movement on-the-fly because he’s now being re-routed from his inmate worker location to visitation, and you’re well outside reach of a computer to log this activity. That’s where mobility, supported by apps such as Mobile Command, can provide staff flexibility to collect data in certain dynamic scenarios where an inmate’s movement demands up-to-the-minute re-routing and no workstation or computer support is nearby to capture this information.

4. How much read range is supported?

Long-range RFID tags can support anywhere from 10 feet to 100 feet or more. Keep in mind that with zone-based inmate tracking, you’re creating a series of strategically placed thresholds, checkpoints, and zones. Thresholds are often created at ingress and egress points. This commonly includes housing unit entrances, for example, as well as hallways and corridors.

Read range (or distance) is an important aspect of the success of your long-range inmate tracking platform. Read accuracy is perhaps just as important -- if not more so. Ensure that your reads are optimized by configuring and testing your long-range reader’s mounted location, as well as tuning reader settings, such as power and beams with our professional services team. Readers like ForceField XD are highly configurable to support a wide range of use cases.

5. What is the life of your long-range RFID tag and consider upfront and ongoing expenses that factor in ongoing replacements.

Long-range Active RFID tags can vary in price from $50 to $150, per unit. Their useful life will be limited to 12, 24, 36, or 48 months – not including replacing intentionally damaged or defective tags that may be out of warranty. OmniPresence long-range tags are a unique, proprietary innovation that cost a fraction of the price of an Active RF tag and yield high-performance, long-range tag reads.

6. Leverage Cloud reporting and business intelligence tools to maximize return on investment.

Cloud computing, powered by platforms such as OnDemand by GUARDIAN RFID, helps to accelerate time to deployment while reducing the overall total cost of ownership (TCO). That’s because long-range, zone-based inmate tracking powered by the Cloud virtually eliminates server and server software costs, enterprise maintenance (data backups, software platform updates and general system updates.) Plus, you gain the complete independence of being able to access your data securely from any device, anywhere, while receiving real-time notifications, system emails, and Cloud-based reporting access.

But what if you lose power or Internet? Aren’t you required to have always-on Internet access? With OnDemand offline mode, we store and exchange data on an interim basis on your local area network. When power or Internet is restored, we auto-merge records with the Cloud so that your reporting is accurate and centralized.

And with the GUARDIAN RFID Cloud, you can easily leverage business intelligence integration with leading platforms such as Qlik and Tableau to better analyze and understand your long-range data.

Black Creek

Radianse

TimeKeeping Systems

3M

GUARDIAN RFID

Solution Architecture

Black Creek

On-premise

Radianse

On-premise

TimeKeeping Systems

On-premise

3M

On-premise

GUARDIAN RFID

Hybrid

RFID Type

Black Creek

Active

Radianse

Active

TimeKeeping Systems

Active

3M

Active

GUARDIAN RFID

Long-range

ID Form Factor

Black Creek

Wristband

Radianse

Wristband

TimeKeeping Systems

Wristband

3M

Wristband

GUARDIAN RFID

ID Badge/Wristband

(powered by Universal ID, dual frequency long-range and nearfield, from GUARDIAN RFID.)

Battery Life

Black Creek

24 months

Radianse

24 months

TimeKeeping Systems

24 months

3M

24 months

GUARDIAN RFID

60 Months +

Zone or Coordinate Inmate Tracking

Black Creek

Coordinate

Radianse

Coordinate

TimeKeeping Systems

Zone

3M

Coordinate

GUARDIAN RFID

Zone

Staff/Inmate Tracking

Black Creek

Both

Radianse

Both

TimeKeeping Systems

Both

3M

Both

GUARDIAN RFID

Both

Business Intelligence Integration

Black Creek

No

Radianse

No

TimeKeeping Systems

No

3M

No

GUARDIAN RFID

Yes; Qlik/Tableau

(others can be supported)

Summary

Long-range, zone-based inmate tracking is a practical, value-driven alternative to the longstanding coordinate-based inmate tracking systems that were attempted over the last 20 years.

Active RFID inmate tracking systems have failed from Los Angeles to New South Wales, Australia. The RAND Corporation study, Tracking Inmates and Locating Staff Active Radio Frequency Identification was a cautionary guide to Active RFID. Active RFID used in a zone-based tracking system still introduces a number of risks that you need to strongly consider: cost, complexity, and fail rate, while accompanied by a high total cost of ownership with an unproven return on investment.

If you have tightly controlled movements or rely too frequently on manual systems to manage high-volume inmate movement, a long-range, zone-based inmate tracking system may be right for you. Powerful alternatives, such as OmniPresence, deliver an innovative approach to long-range inmate tracking at a fraction of the cost of Active RFID, both upfront and ongoing.

Carefully consider your workflow objectives and data collection and reporting needs. Identify where you want to create your thresholds, checkpoints, and zones and what type of inmate identification you want to use. Evaluate your preferred inmate identification form factor. Prisons frequently deploy ID badges because of their useful life and far less frequent attempts by inmates to intentionally remove ID badges. Pre-trial adult detention facilities more commonly deploy wristbands because of their lower unit cost and the fact that pre-trial offenders are generally in-custody for shorter time spans. Ultimately, it’s your choice to choose the form of inmate identification best suited for your facility and inmate population.

By considering the history of long-range inmate tracking and avoiding the mistakes of the past, you can place your team and your facility in the best position possible to make the most of zone-based inmate tracking with demonstrable return on investment, lower TCO, and most importantly, a safer, more connected facility.

Related Resources

Evaluating the Use of Radio Frequency Identification Device Technology to Prevent and Investigate Sexual Assault and Related Acts of Violence in a Women's Prison