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How technology helps and prevents prison escapes

September 11, 2017

How technology helps and prevents prison escapes


Prison escapes in the U.S. are extremely rare—the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that the national rate of escape in 2013 was 10.5 per 10,000 prisoners. Still, for someone facing years or decades in prison, those odds are better than the lottery. Given time, which prisoners have plenty of, they’ll find creative ways to attempt their escapes.

There are true stories of inmates disguising themselves as bags of garbage, hiding in a suitcase, squeezing through the food slot in the prison door and rappelling down a wall with bed sheets.

Most of these attempts were easily foiled, but some actually worked. As most correctional facilities are sprawling complexes composed of multiple buildings, the institution has to rely on technology for the bulk of its security measures. Biometric locks, surveillance cameras and sensors all play a part. Still, as we’ve seen with various prison breaks and attempts over the years, motivated prisoners will find a way.

Drones deliver contraband, escape tools

Drones are now being used to deliver contraband and tools for escape. In fact, just last month, three men were arrested in Michigan for using a drone to deliver drugs and cellphones to an area correctional facility. While the men made repeated drops inside the perimeter of the facility, staff took note and were able to contact authorities.

A few months ago, South Carolina inmate Jimmy Causey escaped his maximum-security prison for the second time in a dozen years. Authorities believe that he was drop-shipped a cell phone and tools for his escape by a drone.

Prevent escapes with physical security

Thus far, preventing drones from delivering contraband has come down to staff noticing the aircraft. However, new technologies have come to market that identify the sound signature of drones and automatically alert authorities. Additionally, some camera manufacturers have developed analytics specifically for identifying drones.

Speaking of analytics, by leveraging more cameras and advanced analytics, escapes like Jimmy Causey’s could be prevented. While the prison was having a 4th of July celebration, Causey was happily cutting through a fence with wire cutters. With eyes averted and a dummy filling in for Causey in his bunk, video surveillance analytics could have automatically alerted authorities to movement in an area where there should be none. Many prisons also rely on radar and buried detection systems to detect movement.

By implementing today’s latest physical security technologies, prisons can further reduce the number of escapes that take place. However, like organizations in any other vertical, budgetary constraints will often dictate the extent to which a solution can be rolled out. Of course, no matter what measures are installed, prisoners will always have time to devise innovative ways to beat the system, or at least try.