Which is Better to Have in My Facility: Cameras or an RFID Tracking System?

If my corrections facility already has camera technology, do I need an RFID system? How can RFID technology make my facility more defensible to lawsuits? What are the differences between camera technology and RFID technology?
Kenzie Koch
Kenzie Koch
Jeff Kovar | Strategic Account Executive

Jeff Kovar, Strategic Account Executive, has visited over a hundred jail and prison facilities throughout his career and has noticed one major theme they all have in common when it comes to discussing tracking products: ''Since we record our officer rounds with our camera system, pen, and paper, we don’t need an RFID system to record officer rounds.” Is this statement true? Learn more in this blog as we examine the differences (and benefits) between camera technology and RFID technology.

Camera Technology

Let’s cut to the chase: camera technology is a must for all prisons and jails. Not only do cameras help identify suspects in assaults, homicides, and trafficking contraband, but they also monitor all movement and activity throughout the facility. Typically, prisons and jails have a control room with numerous video screens that one or two officers monitor to ensure the safety and security of the inmates and staff. Many facilities keep recordings of the videos for a brief time between 15 to 30 days. Therefore, if an incident were to occur, facility investigators can review video footage if needed. For example, if an inmate died in custody, investigators are able to quickly find the specific video footage leading up to when the inmate was found and determine whether there was foul play involved in the inmate’s death.

What is the downfall? 

All too often, facilities rely solely on camera technology with pen and paper to document officer rounds. Although this method was the standard for many years, technology has advanced lightyears beyond, as well as the way prisons and jails operate. However, the largest downfall of camera technology is that it gives facilities a false sense of security and protection from lawsuits. In reality, many facilities primarily use camera technology as a reactionary tool, instead of something that prevents incidents from occurring. As previously mentioned, facilities will go back and review videos after an incident has occurred. If there is staff neglect or non-compliance with officer rounds, you can bet that your cameras will capture this information, and it will be used against you during subsequent litigation.  While it’s important to have the ability to be able to determine the events leading up to the incident, it doesn’t effectively and efficiently monitor every single officer round or prevent incidents from happening, and prevention is key to reducing risk.

The defensibility of video systems falls short when considering the statute of limitations for civil rights lawsuits. Eleventh-hour filings are a common practice. An attorney will file a civil rights claim just before the statue of limitation expires. They know that two-year old paperwork, video, and staffing constraints tee the client up for a quick payout settlement. Worst case scenario, the attorney gets the discovery and claims that the state is suppressing documents because a minor incident was not documented properly 2 years earlier. The settlement might have just gotten a few more zeros with this technique.  

So, is there a solution to monitor all officer rounds? Well technically, you could have a team gather and compare paper logs to video footage while logging the discrepancies with the officer rounds. Sounds easy, right? Maybe, but this would take countless hours and is prone to human error. Think of how many housing units and cameras you have within your facility, then multiply it by 24 (or 48 if your facility is required to make rounds every 30 minutes). You will quickly realize that monitoring all officer rounds on a daily basis is an impossible task with today’s camera technology.

Why should I monitor every single officer round?

While reading this article, you may be thinking how absurd it is to consider monitoring every single officer round. After all, your facility may be small and not have frequent incidents. There may even be some readers who have a large facility and think monitoring every single officer round is an impossible task based on the sheer size. The fact of the matter is that in-custody deaths occur in facilities of all shapes and sizes. Whether your facility has one cell or over 10,000 cells, incidents can and will occur. Luckily, there are steps to mitigate risk. How? Monitoring officer rounds… every single one of them. When all officer rounds are monitored on a daily basis, you know if your staff are making their rounds according to agency policy or not. If they aren’t, you have the tools to take corrective action and correct the issue. But wouldn’t it be convenient to know whether your officers are making their rounds as stated in your agency policy before a major incident occurs?

RFID System

RFID tracking systems are designed to document officer proof of presence. Correspondingly, RFID tags are placed on the outside and/or throughout the housing unit. In order to document the officer round, officers must take a handheld device and place it within an inch from the tag. The tag has an embedded RFID sensor that records the date and time stamp the officer round was completed, then has this information electronically stored within the facility database. The key benefit of an RFID system is that it has the ability to run audit reports in a matter of seconds (and see all of your officers’ late rounds!). If you are interested in researching RFID systems, it’s encouraged to not only research the functionality of the device, but also the audit reports. Different companies will have different functionality. It’s also recommended to ask for customer references to learn their insight based on their own personal experience. Thankfully, customers will typically give you honest feedback. 

GUARDIAN RFID is the best tool in the toolbox to manage a jail.
Chris Villines
Executive Director with the Association of Arkansas Counties

Should I have Cameras or RFID Technology?

Cameras and RFID technology serve similar, yet different, purposes in correctional facilities and are both equally important. Cameras are a vital tool primarily used for investigations after an incident has occurred while RFID technology is a salient facet primarily used to take a proactive approach to mitigating risk. Both tools can, and are used to, supplement each other and are a must-have for all correctional facilities. We hope this information was insightful and gives you the ability to identify risk points efficiently. You can use this information to take a proactive approach to improve your agency’s round compliance and mitigate your agency’s risk. For more information on the negative aspects of documenting officer rounds with pen and paper, please visit our blog on Legal Defensibility, as well as Why Jails Should Switch to Mobile Inmate Tracking.