Texas prisons migrate to network video

New surveillance technology increases security, safety at state correctional institutions

Tim Simmons, senior warden, Polunsky Unit, sometimes uses the system to establish when an item became missing by accessing archived video to browse back to a point when the item was there. "I can highlight the item [with a blue box], and 'smart search' will look through the video and freeze when there is movement in the area. There is a timeline on the screen, and you can see exactly what time a certain door was opened."

Systems installed in first three prisons

Allan B. Polunsky Unit is a 472-acre maximum-security prison that houses about 2,900 offenders at a range of custody levels including maximum security and death row. Originally designed to house 2,250 offenders, the Polunsky unit has been expanded with the addition of dormitory buildings. The prison encompasses a total of 19 buildings, including a medical and education facility with a standard library and a legal library, a supply warehouse, four general population chow halls, one officers' dining room, a laundry room, an administration building, a maintenance building, a vocational facility, and two gyms that are also used as chapels. The facility also includes a tree farm and a dog kennel. Security for the Polunsky Unit includes video coverage of every building and every walkway as well as the perimeter. Aiphone video intercoms are also installed on the premises to provide efficient and easy communications with the correctional staff. Warden Simmons confirms the system makes him more efficient and enables him to evaluate various aspects of the facility more quickly and thoroughly.

Another prison whose video system has been upgraded is the Mark W. Stiles Unit, which was also originally designed to accommodate 2,250 offenders and also now has additional dorms to serve a current occupancy around 2,900. Stiles has about 20 buildings, including a separate chapel.

Richard Alford, senior warden at Stiles unit, has used the video system to monitor and critique his staff's response to unit emergencies. "You get a minute-to-minute response to suicide attempts and things of that nature," he said. Such incidents require an administrative review, and the video provides a valuable tool. Alford also says the system helps to quickly dismiss false offender complaints without merit- the video can easily prove if complaints are unfounded.

Darrington Unit, where video system installation is also almost complete, is a very old high-security prison, built in 1930. It is made up of a single building (in contrast to the multiple buildings and campus setting of the other units). Darrington houses about 2,000 offenders and uses about 490 cameras.

The advanced video system provides an advantage for prison wardens to help reduce incidents of contraband, gang activity and other challenges unique to a prison environment, as well as increased productivity and safety.

"Without the video you have to do more questioning and investigative measures to find out what occurred," said Brenda Chaney, senior warden, Darrington Unit. There are times when you can't get to the bottom of what occurred (without a camera). If there's a fight - who was involved? When security comes, they spread out, but with a camera you would see who's involved. With a camera, you've got them."

In each installation, the fiber infrastructure includes a 10-gig backbone and 1-gig horizontal to smaller network rooms. Each cable pull has 12 fiber strands, which allows plenty of dark fiber to add future bandwidth. "We were cognizant of the need to facilitate the future expansion in all areas of the units, so as to avoid costly expansions in the future in order to continue to take advantage of the latest security trends," said Jose Garza, CCNP, technical project manager of STS. "Upgrades will be simple and an absolute given in the future course of high security vigilance."

The fiber is underground out to the perimeter but runs when necessary along and inside buildings, protected by a 4-inch, rigid conduit. Fiber connects to six main hubs (network rooms), which include server storage and there are 23 intermediate distribution frame (IDF) locations.