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Why Jails Should Switch to Mobile Inmate Tracking

What is mobile inmate tracking? How much time is your staff wasting on paper-based systems? Is your safety and reliability suffering as a result of manual systems? This article discusses the reasons why making a switch to mobile inmate tracking may be the best solution for you.
Camille Knighton
Camille Knighton

59% of managers say they miss important information daily because even though it exists, they can't find it because it's on paper. Senior leaders spend an average of six weeks per year looking for lost documents. And over 70% of all jails still rely on paper as the primary method of records management.

Getting Started

Corrections isn’t exactly at the forefront of innovation, but over the last several years, we’ve begun seeing a shift. Jails are adopting more technology at a faster pace to save money, time, and increase productivity. This raises the question: should jails eliminate paper all together?

The primary concerns are safety and reliability. It’s important to safeguard your information and that’s why every jail has a records keeper tasked with archiving and protecting the facility’s information. Whether its incident reports, booking information, or daily inmate well-being logs, everything needs to be stored and protected, but paper logs aren’t the answer.

Mobile logging is the most effective way to safeguard your jail’s information.

  1. Mobile logging promotes an increased level of detailed data collection, at the point of responsibility.

  2. Mobile logging centralizes storage and record keeping, especially with the Cloud, helping to improve communication, staff accountability, and measure operational performance.

  3. Mobile logging decentralizes workflows with indirect data collection and immediate syncing to better safeguard information.

Mobile Logging Improves Speed and Performance


Administrators wants to see electronic logs, and some states have even passed laws to require it, such as the newly signed Sandra Bland Act in Texas. Yet, there’s a common misconception that the only way to generate electronic logs is by putting officers in front of computers and manually type in notes.

Officers assigned the daily tasks of a direct supervision pod are walking by cells, looking in windows, and then going back to their workstation to document what they saw based on their memory. Officers can’t accurately remember and document everything they saw by memory, especially when bombarded with questions and requests by inmates. Yes, your line staff are outstanding individuals, but it’s naïve to think that any person can retain highly detailed memories of up to 50 cells while they walk rounds, collect paper forms, and then go back to a computer to write it all out. It’s an overwhelming task for anyone.

Mobile solutions solve all that by putting the computer in the officers’ hands while cell checks are being completed. They can document at the point of responsibility, making sure that logged information is accurate and not sparing any detail. The chances of forgetting a detail if you’re documenting while you’re standing in front of the cell is significantly smaller than when you’re back at your workstation 20 individual cell checks later.

Correctional deputy logging a cell check during security rounds in a housing unit at the Brazos Co. Detention Center.


Not only does manual computer entry require staff to document based on memory, but it also forces officers to focus their attention on a screen rather than the inmates. Yes, jail administration wants computer generated logs, but they also want their officers to be engaged and having face-to-face contact with inmates. Less officer/inmate interaction means less observations, ultimately decreasing the number of detailed notes within the logs.

Mobile inmate tracking is just that: mobile. Staff can track and log inmate well-being while

looking at inmates during the cell checks, not afterwards when they’re in front of a computer.


For facilities using only hand-written logs, spelling errors, incorrect grammar, and chicken scratch are all common issues. If the notes are illegible or incorrect, it’s difficult to be legally defensible in court or dispute inmate complaints. Some jails attempt to solve these problems by having line staff type notes into their jail management system. Those are only going to be accurate if every officer gets enough face-to-face interaction with inmates, remembers absolutely everything they observed, and want to take the time to manually type every notation into the JMS. That’s a tall order to ensure accuracy.

As a jail administrator using paper logs, I'm sure you're painfully familiar with pencil whipping. Security check logs that are perfectly 30 minutes apart on the minute, the word "same" row after row. Pencil whipping becomes impossible with a mobile solution because you can’t backdate.

It’s much easier and more accurate to simply talk into your mobile device or tap pre-defined behavioral descriptions to take notes while looking at the inmates while compete the cell checks.

Correctional deputy reviewing Cloud-based electronic logs from a booking workstation.

Mobile Logging Measures Operational Performance


Some facilities think paper logs are more reliable than electronic logs. There are even a few jails that have started to use a paperless system but keep paper copies just in case. This is a bit silly.

As long as your electronic logs are stored on a secure and redundant server, you have nothing to worry about. Information that’s stored on a public cloud server is backed up, and then those back ups are backed up. It would be more likely that a pipe would burst or a fire to start in your records room than for Google’s or Amazon’s servers (and their backups) to be wiped out.

With hand-written paper logs, there’s only one copy. If something were to happen, you’d be in a bit of trouble. For facilities using a local server, it’s important to make sure that who ever is hosting it has several backups—it’s not always a guarantee that they are backed up. With cloud-based servers, there’s always multiple backups.

Agencies and judges don’t require that documents are written down on paper. They just want them printed on paper. They only want jails to print out the pages that mean something to them, so why keep hundreds and thousands of pieces of paper in file boxes when you’re only going to need a few of them to summarize what they agency or judge is looking for?


Hosting electronic logs in a secure and redundant way can sound easy, but that’s not quite the case. To properly store your logs, you’ll need to:

  1. Have several backups in place

  2. Make sure your server stacks have the proper climate control

  3. Update your machines regularly

  4. Check that the wiring conduits leading to your servers aren’t compromised

  5. Have necessary firmware updates

Do you want to worry about any of that? No. Outsource those tasks to experts and enterprises that have specialized in server management for decades saves you money, time, and the headache.

With in-house servers, there’s usually only one or two minds thinking about the firewall. At Google and Amazon, there’s thousands of people who are taking care of it. You might employ a talented IT person, but there’s strength in numbers, and those numbers are at the U.S. based cloud server companies.


The reason data and logs, whether electronic or otherwise, exist is to be viewed and consumed by the administration, agencies, and the court. The information collected should be accessible to administration immediately, being able to draw insights about the past at any time and from any device.

With paper logs, jails have to rely on a records keeper to pull all necessary documentation. Administration then has to sift through the big stack of paperwork for what they truly need and then turn all that paper into a tidy summary for the agency or judge. The process is time consuming, inefficient, and doesn’t easily provide insights.

If using a cloud or web-based local host, all administration has to do is go to the computer and generate a report. Some cloud and web-based platforms produce reports better and faster than others, but they’re all significantly better than searching through boxes of paper. Pulling insights is much easier to do on a computer. It can compile all collected data and display insights such as the facility’s compliance percentage. The levels of insights will differ depending on the specific platform being used.

Data Collection + the Cloud Increase Security

When it comes to data collection, a primary concern is keeping it safe and secure. So, what would happen if you jail’s data were to be compromised?

If you’re using an on-premises system for security rounds, inmate tracking, or activity logging, all your documentation is stored on a local area network with minimal redundancies in place. If that stored data becomes compromised, there’s no way to safely continue collecting data. Jails would likely switch back to manual logs until the situation was resolved, taking step backwards and inefficiently collecting data.

Even if you were in the unfortunate position of having compromised data, that shouldn’t mean you have to resort back to hand-written logs. To do that, find a mobile solution that allows for indirect collection--each mobile device acts as its own workstation and is not directly connected to the stored data.

Ransomware Strikes Idaho Sheriff’s Office

A year ago, a hacker gained access to the servers at Bingham Co. Sheriff’s Office in Blackfoot, Idaho. When the hacker took their data hostage and demanded a ransom to the sheriff’s office, the administration chose to unplug all the servers. While line staff advised that they begin documenting rounds on paper logs, the jail administrator instructed officers to continue documenting all inmate well-being information on their mobile devices. Because the mobile devices are their own workstation, officers were able to safely log inmate data without the threat of it being accessed by the hacker.

Once a new server was up and running, the mobile devices synced with the Wi-Fi and uploaded all collected data to the uncompromised server. No data was lost during the down time.

So, whether your server gets hacked, electricity goes out, or your Wi-Fi is down, your staff can continue to safely log on their mobile devices that allow indirect collection.

Immediate Syncing

There are two ways to upload the data from the mobile devices to your server--you can cradle it or use Wi-Fi. Manual uploads occur whenever the officer has time or remembers to plug it in or place in within the docking cradle. That may be after every round, every few rounds, or even just once at the end of the day. Immediate syncing using Wi-Fi happens after a new note is created and logged while the device is connected to internet.

To safeguard data, it’s best to decrease the amount of time between the moment its collected and the moment its uploaded to the server. The more time between those to points leaves your data susceptible to being compromised. Having the documentation immediately synced with the server using Wi-Fi leaves very little time for it to be disrupted in any way. It also ensures that no data is lost.

“Efficiency is doing better what is already being done,” according to Peter Drucker, famed business management consultant. Consider this: 59% of 1,000 middle managers say they miss important information daily because even though it exists, they can't find it because it's on paper. (Source: Accenture). Think about placing as much emphasis on people as you do process. Think about the demographic of your staff; the tools they’re using in their living rooms and personal lives. What technologies are they using all day to be more efficient and aware when running their households?

When you do, you’ll find running a safer, more connected, and more aware detention facility was faster, simpler, and more accessible than you imagined.