Texas prisons migrate to network video

New surveillance technology increases security, safety at state correctional institutions

Because funding to upgrade to newer technologies is difficult to obtain, many prisons across the United States still use older, analog, even black-and-white video systems that don't archive, so no evidence is produced despite the availability of options providing far superior performance. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), which is embracing the latest IP-based video technologies to enhance surveillance within its prisons, has demonstrated the value of investing in state-of-the-art surveillance technology.

An incident in 2008 highlighted the need to increase security, especially related to contraband inside Texas prisons. A death-row inmate used a smuggled cell phone to make calls from prison to State Senator John Whitmire, D-Houston. Senator Whitmire chairs the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee and helped facilitate availability of state funding to install security systems to help prisons deal more effectively with the issue of contraband.

There are 112 prisons across Texas housing about 156,000 offenders statewide. While many facilities have camera systems, the sophisticated new video surveillance systems have been installed in three prisons - the Allan B. Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas; the Mark W. Stiles Unit in Beaumont, Texas; and the Darrington Unit in Rosharon, Texas. Additional new video surveillance systems may be rolled out in the next five to ten years in Texas prisons, contingent upon funding.
"Video surveillance is not a new concept in the correctional environment, but technological advances offer opportunities that cannot be ignored to further enhance security, increase staff and offender safety and combat contraband," said Brad Livingston, TDCJ executive director. "In my opinion, the comprehensive video surveillance system in use at several TDCJ facilities represents an effective application of the latest technologies and is making a significant contribution to security and safety."

Sigma Surveillance (STS), Plano, Texas, is designing and installing the new systems from and has also installed a full network infrastructure because prisons are not wired for any networked technology. Fiber optic cable was installed at every single building on the installations so far, as well as at every perimeter post and guard tower. To date, Sigma Surveillance has visited other prisons as well to design and engineer future systems in order to provide TDCJ with the ability to budget for future expansions. During the fiscal year 2012-2013 biennium, TDCJ will expand the use of surveillance systems at two to three additional prisons. Additional future upgrades are contingent on available funding.

The new IP-based systems at the three facilities use the Ocularis video management software system by OnSSI with over 2,000 Panasonic network cameras system wide to capture detailed video of everything that happens within the prison walls, making it available to wardens and other prison staff. Wardens are now accustomed to using the system as part of their everyday routine and have captured video of assaults on staff and offenders as well as other incidents. The systems also allow them to give accolades to prison staff members who are witnessed via video as they do the "right thing."

The Panasonic cameras have been used to investigate contraband such as drugs, cell phones and money drops inside the prison. The system catches the "drop" and provides evidence to corroborate the incident. They have also been used to prove cases in criminal and administrative proceedings.

Wardens value the ease of use of the Ocularis system. Simplified interfaces do not take a lot of space on the monitor screen, and the staff appreciates the search features, especially the motion searches. On playback, prison staff can use the "little blue box," a feature that enables them to designate a specific area on the screen and identify on playback when there is motion within the box. The Panasonic cameras deployed consist mainly of WV-NW484S and WV-NW502S fixed dome network cameras. Together, these cameras deliver high-quality video in virtually any lighting condition to deliver clear and continuous coverage of activities within the prison system.

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