Video Surveillance & Physical Security Industry Viewpoints
November 30th, 2020
Author: David McGinley

How Intelligent Video Surveillance Increases Safety in Correctional Facilities

Decreasing Violence and Crime in Prisons with Video Analytics

Crime and violence run rampant in prisons: from assaults against corrections officers and other inmates to physical fighting for resolving conflicts – not to mention the higher risks of self-harm or attempted suicide. For instance, at HM Prison Pentonville, in London, as of early March 2019,

the UK’s Chief inspector of prisons reported “little evidence of positive improvement” and violence had “once again risen”– with an overall increase of 10% and a 30% hike in assaults on staff.” In 2018, the dire situation had reached a point where, in the UK, on average, each day at least two prison officers need medical attention following a violent incident. That same year, the Financial Times reported that the UK’s Ministry of Justice counted “33,803 assaults by prisoners in the year to September 2018, and 52,814 incidents of self-harm. Attacks on staff rose by 29% and prisoner-on-prisoner violence by 18%.” The situation in the United States is similar. An article in the New Republic refers to the US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division’s summary of its findings on the state of Alabama’s prisons, which revealed a grim picture of life behind prison walls, for both staff and inmates.

Beyond violence – and sometimes the impetus for violent clashes – another challenge for prisons is the smuggling of contraband, such as drugs, phones, and weapons. Many prisoners turn to drug abuse because of pre-existing addictions or the allure of getting high to escape boredom, frustration, and depression. Phones are also frequently smuggled in, because criminals want to keep in contact with their external enterprise or intimidate victims and witnesses. Weapons are in high demand, because prisoners want to either commit assaults or defend themselves against attacks. Smuggling often involves a breach of perimeter security, which are becoming increasingly sophisticated: today, drones are being used to deliver contraband or drugs into prison yards. However, inmates resort to more traditional methods as well, such as smuggling contraband through vehicles that come and go through prison grounds. Of course, another problematic violation of perimeter security is the occasional inmate escape attempt.

There are multiple factors that contribute to prison crime and violence, and no simple solutions or easy answers. These problems are often compounded by overcrowded facilities, understaffing and lack of capable personnel in prisons. From the perspective of correctional officers, working in a prison is dangerous and low-pay work, which is why so many prisons have many job vacancies. This is why it is critical for prisons to incorporate force-multiplying technologies, to augment the capabilities of individual officers and – as much as possible – protect officers and inmates from harm.

In some prisons, data-driven technology solutions are already a fully-integrated part of the safety and security strategy: for example, the aggregated data collected by various crime analytics software solutions can be correlated to help draw connections between disparate data sources, such as such as criminal history, social media networks, property records, field notes. In this way, corrections officers can understand factors, including when specific prisoners have past associations as rivals, fellow gang members, or victims and witnesses. With deeper awareness, they can proactively prevent acts of violence or intimidation.

One data source which can be particularly strategic for data-driven analytics is video surveillance. Video camera networks are pervasive in prison environments for monitoring various areas of the property, such as cell blocks, individual cells, recreational areas, dining areas, loading docks, and administrative offices. While it can be challenging for officers to constantly attentively monitor every camera in real-time or review video post-event without the risk of human error, video content analytics solutions enable prisons to maximize their video surveillance systems and derive actionable intelligence from video.

Powered by artificial intelligence, video intelligence solutions detect, identify, extract, and catalog all the objects that appear in video, and index the object classes and attributes such as gender, appearance similarity, color, size, and direction of movement. Object classification helps drive precise and detailed video search and filtering, rule-based real-time alerting and comprehensive operational, activity and demographic intelligence of the correctional facility grounds. Deep learning-based intelligent video surveillance also enables law enforcement to facilitate perimeter protection and track behaviors within the prison, such as interactions between objects, dwell times, and navigation paths, and identify specific people and vehicles of interest using license plate and face recognition technology. Here’s a deeper dive into how correctional facilities can leverage real-time alerting and comprehensive reporting capabilities.

Real-Time Alerts Enable Situational Awareness

Video content analysis software improves situational awareness, so that security officers can proactively monitor and preventatively intervene to events unfolding. For example, people counting alerts enable operators to configure the system to send real-time alerts to corrections staff when a pre-defined threshold of people in a certain area is exceeded. This helps staff know where and when prisoners are congregating, so security can decide whether there’s a risk of crowding or the eruption of a fight or riot, or understand whether prisoners may be congregating to plan an attack. Based on real-time, actionable intelligence, the officers can make better and more timely decisions about how to respond.

Another helpful metric is whether two or more inmates are dwelling in a certain area. Whether this indicates an exchange of drugs or contraband or an attempt to penetrate a highly secured space, by triggering alerts in those situations video analytics can help drive appropriate and immediate responses. For perimeter protection, video content analytics solutions also feature line crossing alerts; if a person crosses into a certain off-limits area, the system will send an alert to security staff, enabling extensive protection and monitoring.

Alerting with Facial Recognition

Video intelligence software that includes facial recognition can identify specific persons by matching it against an image. In a prison setting, operators can maintain a watchlist of face images and configure automatic alerts to notify officers of specific behaviors. For instance, law enforcement can compile a watchlist of staff members, and trigger alerts for when a person excluded from that watchlist has entered a particular facility. This enables security to respond appropriately, whether by monitoring, stopping, or apprehending the person. Alternatively, corrections officers can compile watchlists of prisoners suspected of engaging in illicit smuggling – or past smuggling offenders – and receive alerts when these individuals are detected in areas where goods might be exchanged. Face matching can also be used for post-event investigation, so that if an incident occurs, such as a violent altercation between prisoners, or a perimeter breach, officers can search based on face images in video to identify which prisoners were involved and understand how the situation unfolded.

Accelerate Post-Incident Investigations

Even without face recognition, video content analytics powerfully enables law enforcement to understand activity by searching and filtering video feeds to focus on the people and activities of interest. When criminal or medical incidents occur in a corrections facility, video evidence can help them determine what happened: With the help of video content analysis, officers can quickly review that footage to accelerate the investigation. For example, operators can use dwell and count-based filters to search across video footage from multiple cameras, and understand where inmates were congregating and, possibly, plotting violent or illegal activity.

Trend Reports Uncover  Traffic Patterns

With intelligent video surveillance, correctional facilities can aggregate video data over time, and present the information in customizable visual reports: Turning raw data into quantifiable data and comprehensive dashboards, video content analysis software helps that corrections facility managers uncover patterns and trends related to prisoner and visitor foot traffic, dwelling hotspots, occupancy and people count, vehicle traffic, and more. Based on extensive data reporting, officers can intelligently identify where rule-based alerts can help officers preventatively respond to suspicious behaviors in the future.

In an era of increasing violence and unrest in prisons that is often intensified by staff shortages, intelligent video surveillance serves as a force multiplier for correctional facilities, while also driving operational efficiency, incident prevention, and accelerated staff response and incident investigations in prison environments. The technology can do more than just maximize existing resources, it can help save lives and protect inmates and officers alike.

More on video analytics for law enforcement.