Back to Blog

What You Need to Know About Hardened RFID Tags: What They Are, How to Use Them, and Where to Mount Them

Camille Knighton
Camille Knighton

Jails, prisons, and juvenile facilities are eliminating manual and paper-based logs to automate guard tour, inmate tracking, and offender activity logging. These processes are automated using mobile applications on rugged devices, such as SPARTAN, to interact with a special type of hardened RFID tag, known as a HARD TAG.

Whether you run a small jail or a large prison, there are ways to eliminate manual and paper-based logging during security rounds, meal offerings, headcounts, activity logging, and more. These processes are automated using mobile applications on rugged devices. Handheld scanners, such as SPARTAN, interact with a special type of RFID tag, known as a Hard Tag.

What’s a Hard Tag?

A Hard Tag is a hardened RFID sensor strategically deployed throughout a jail, prison, or juvenile detention facility. Hard Tags are placed wherever you need to confirm staff proof of presence, while simultaneously supporting a wide range of data collection needs at the point of responsibility. This can include cell checks and security checks, inmate movements, meal and recreation offerings, headcounts, razor passes, and so much more.

GUARDIAN RFID Hard Tag shot with a 9mm semi-automatic from a range of 20 yards.

Where should I deploy my Hard Tags?

Where you deploy your Hard Tags depends on the objectives of your data collection and reporting needs. Hard Tags are always deployed at the Pod/Cellblock level, as well as “runs” (explained below), and non-housing unit areas.

The “Pod Tag” is located just inside or outside the pod and displays an electronic roster of all inmates assigned to the Pod whenever you scan or read a Pod tag with a mobile device running an application like Mobile Command.

In general, here are three common ways corrections professionals use Hard Tags in housing units:

  • For facilities looking to maximize defensibility. If you’re needing to automate key responsibilities, such as cell checks on high-risk offenders — whether those on suicide watch, medication watch, administrative segregation, or juveniles in lockdown — you’ll want to “tag” individual cells or rooms in living units for juveniles. Hard Tags associated with individual cells will auto-identify the offender assigned to that location in Mobile Command. This is achieved through integration with your jail, offender, or case management system.
  • For facilities looking to maximize compliance. Jails and prisons looking to automate compliance will use a combination of “Run Tags,” or tags that are programmatically associated with a sub-region or sub-section of cells. For example, let’s say you have a pod or housing unit that has two tiers housing general population inmates. There are 16 cells on the upper tier, 16 on the lower. You don’t need to automate cell checks at each cell because of the inmates' classification; you only need to demonstrate “proof of presence." In this instance, you may mount two Hard Tags: one on each end of the lower tier, and one or two at the ends of the upper tier. You may then set an expectation in Compliance Monitor that these “Run Tag” Hard Tags need to be randomly read or scanned every 30 minutes during lockdown hours only, which is configurable.

Non-housing unit areas, or “Out of Cell,” locations are frequently tagged as well. Here are some of the most common areas:

  • Kitchen
  • Laundry
  • Recreation
  • Multi-purpose rooms
  • Visitation
  • Perimeters
  • Pipe chases
  • Programs rooms
  • Cafeteria/dining
Correctional deputy logging a cell check during security rounds.

Why are Hard Tags Red?

Hard Tags have been deliberately red for a long-time, and the reason's pretty straightforward.

We want inmates and staff to see them.

That's right. We want inmates to know they're there, just like we want staff members to know. If an object that's bright red goes missing, it's plain as day. But if an object that blends into its surrounding goes missing, it's not as obvious, right?

Hard Tags are indestructible. They're literally bulletproof. So while there's not much an inmate can do to them, you still want to know when an inmate is being non-compliant.

How much does a Hard Tag cost?

A Hard Tag costs $14.95. Jails, prisons, and juvenile facilities will often tag a large number of cells, in addition to deploying standard Pod Tags, Run Tags, and non-housing unit areas because of their affordability, non-hardwired support, and lifetime guarantee.

How do Hard Tags mount?

Hard Tags are generally mounted using two tamper-proof screws. Some facilities, like Crow Wing Co. Jail use 3M double-sided foam tape. Others, like Potter Co. Jail in Amarillo, Texas, use a combination of epoxy and Hard Tags (this was their preference.)

Correctional officer logging security checks during hourly security rounds at the Brazos Co. Detention Center in Bryan, Texas.

Final Notes on Hard Tags

Always Be Mindful of Inmate Visibility

Never place Hard Tags in a location that does not afford staff complete visibility of one or all inmates. Depending on facility layout, the placement of your Pod Tag may not afford complete visibility of inmates in their cells. And that’s ok, because that’s not the intention of the Pod Tag. Your facility’s design may allow complete visibility of all inmates in their cells from the pod or cellblock entrance (commonly in linear style jails.) Just be sure to craft policy that supports the proper use of the Pod Tag.

But if there’s an expectation that cells need to be checked, and this can only be supported by going inside the Pod or Cellblock, then you’ll need to rely on Run Tags or CellTags, or some combination.

And always ensure staff are looking inside the cell. Nip any emerging bad habits in the bud. Randomly watch video of staff using GUARDIAN RFID because it's not just about hitting your checkpoints. Make your observations the way you were trained, then log with your handheld scanner.

Be Sure to Place at the Proper Height on the Proper Surface

Mount your Hard Tags at an average height of 54” to 60”. Anything above 72” may begin to challenge shorter-statured staff members. Also, place your Hard Tags as close to the Pod or Cellblock door (inside or outside) as well as cell doors. And do not place your Hard Tags onto metal surfaces without a spacer tag. Metal can significantly shorten the RFID tag’s readability; a spacer tag helps to elevate the tag off steel surfaces to optimize tag readability.

Officer scanning a Hard Tag to log security rounds with SPARTAN at the Robeson Co. Jail in Lumberton, North Carolina.

Communicate Hard Tag Uses and Cell Check Frequencies

If you’re deploying a large number of Pod Tags, Run Tags, and Cell Tags, tag use will largely depend on inmate classification. Some Hard Tags will be used more frequently than others to ensure security checks and cell checks are done at the proper intervals. Craft and communicate policy and procedure documents clearly so that staff fully understand Hard Tag use and expectations.

For example, will you be requiring staff to scan or read Hard Tags on unoccupied cells? If no, then be sure that this is apparent in your procedural documents. Your implementation team will also make sure that these Hard Tags have the proper monitoring status set in Compliance Monitor to “If occupied.”

If you have Hard Tags on every cell within a Pod, but you’re only logging Cell Checks on individual cells when an inmate’s placed on a high-risk watch and that inmate may be placed among inmates who are not on a high-risk watch, then make sure that staff are aware of the Cell Check requirement on that inmate by creating a Special Status watch in Mobile Command or relying on your jail management system to automatically update Compliance Monitor so that the proper cell check frequencies are automatically set.

Additional Resources:

Maximizing Compliance with Jail Standards (Isanti Co. Sheriff’s Office)

Berks Co. Jail Deploys GUARDIAN RFID

Great Documentation Defeats Risk in Corrections

Why Three Jail Administrators Switched from Guard Tour to GUARDIAN RFID