Aug 95

Level of Govt: County

Function: Corrections

Publish Solution Summary with story?: YES

Problem/situation: Jail population growth has increased the strain on manual record-keeping systems.

Solution: Automated records management systems help produce safer jail environments and fewer lawsuits.

Jurisdiction: Knox County, Tenn.; Forsythe County, N.C.; Pima County, Ariz.;

Vendors: Perceptics Corp.; Westinghouse; Spillman Data Systems Inc.; DEC; Sun;

Contact: Buddy Burkhardt 615/281-6700

By Raymond Dussault

Special to Government Technology

Looking more like Melrose Place with a very high fence than a jail, the new Knox County Detention Facility in Knox County, Tenn., has largely eschewed bars, replacing them with bar-coded wristbands and a state-of-the-art, computerized information management system.

"In just a few years this county has gone from horse and buggy, pen and paper jail management to rocket-ship technology - everything from the toilets to the telephones is fully computerized," said Buddy Burkhardt, the data communications engineer hired to acclimatize correctional officers with the new technology.

The 270,000 square foot, $33 million facility will eventually house 694 minimum - and medium - security inmates in five buildings, and at every level of management the new jail takes advantage of modern technological innovations. The information technology package includes live-scan fingerprinting, an automated fingerprint identification system, digitized mug shots and computerized inmate and records management.

The $6.5 million system, designed by Perceptics Corp., a Westinghouse subsidiary based in Knoxville, is expected to reduce costs, provide an unheard of level of records integrity and increase the safety of both officers and inmates.

The new detention center, which was opened in November of 1994, is not the only jail to use automation, but it is an example of a fully integrated jail management system. Another example - the Forsythe County Law Enforcement Detention Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., designed by Utah-based Spillman Data Systems Inc. - came online in June of 1995. Costing $48 million, it will eventually house 1,016 inmates.

"From what I have seen in my travels around the country," said Bryan Sturgill, a law enforcement specialist with Perceptics, "all jail management is heading toward some level of automation. While some people are slow to accept the new technology and others are constrained by their budgets, the rapid growth of inmate populations is making the use of automated information management systems imperative."


From 1983 to 1993, the number of inmates housed in the nation's local jails rose by 106 percent, then jumped again, adding 30,638 prisoners in 1994 alone, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Today the total average local inmate population hovers at near a half million.

Knox County is attempting to deal with this human tidal wave through innovation and automation.

Applying the relatively new concept of direct supervision inmate management, the Knox County facility favors open space over traditional cells. The only visible means of security is a 10-foot high chain link fence surrounding the grounds, and barred windows.

Inmates are housed in pods containing up to 48 prisoners, and each pod is supervised by two jailers seated at a horseshoe-shaped control panel. While inmates roam freely about their pod and have access to a variety of apartment-like amenities - they can do laundry in the pod's washer and dryer, watch television, enjoy telephone usage and help themselves to beverages from a soda fountain - they are under constant supervision from the pod's officers, a unit supervision post and a computerized central control room.

The central control room is enclosed with bullet-resistant glass, and the entire facility can be controlled from there by jailers using a touch-screen computer. Intercoms and telephones are under the central room's control, doors can be locked or unlocked and video cameras turned on