Texas prisons migrate to network video

New surveillance technology increases security, safety at state correctional institutions

The system's ease of use is critical; corrections officers may not necessarily be IT experts, but Ocularis is so intuitive as to be a "no-brainer." The use of maps in Ocularis simplifies interface with the video system and is intuitive. Many areas in a prison look the same, so it is not easy to visualize a camera's location. Operators can click into each building, and all the cameras will come up, instead of one camera at a time. It's a useful tool that makes it easy for staff to locate the cameras they are looking for.

The system at Polunsky unit came online in stages over almost a year, and officers began using the system as it became live. "The vendor provided training on the system, but because we started using it as it came up, we basically didn't need any training," said Simmons. "The software is intuitive and extremely user-friendly."

Future upgrades to the system include the likelihood of incorporating scene-change detection to help protect the cameras. Since it's impossible to pull cameras from the walls, offenders often seek to cover up the lens by spraying it or putting a towel over it. Scene detection analytics, which are built into the camera, are being integrated with Ocularis to create an alert notification and event push video for immediate notification of the occurrence. OnSSI and STS are investing in writing code to capture the camera's analytics.

The prisons are also looking to license the Briefcam Video Synopsis software on some of the OnSSI channels, which provides the ability to summarize 24 hours of video in five minutes.

In summary, the system provides prison staff unprecedented access to the units. A warden using the "eye in the sky" can see their units like never before, which has dramatically increased control. Texas prisons have had numerous visitors from other states who have been impressed by the system's functionality; one prominent prison official from another state simply said "I want one."

Despite budget constraints, the Texas Legislature has continued to invest in public safety. "We're grateful to Governor Perry and the Legislature for providing funding to enhance the security of our facilities," said Livingston. "They made this a priority, and we're committed to putting those limited resources to good use."

"The State of Texas Criminal Justice Department is hands-down the most innovative state prison program in its approach to security and can now claim bragging rights to the only agency-comprehensive advanced IP video surveillance system of its kind in the United States," said Jessica Clark, vice president and program manager for TDCJ projects with STS.

"TDCJ's use of best-of-breed technologies, the support of top industry partners and collaboration with TDCJ personnel have created an impressive and invaluable result," said Bobby Khullar, president/CEO of STS.