and off, or panned for a better view, simply with the touch of a jailer's finger.

Each inmate wears a bar-coded wristband that is also keyed into the central computer system and contains each inmate's physical description, name, picture and prisoner number, used to keep track of inmate location, visitations, library use, medical treatment and court appointments, and has allowed the facility to develop a completely cashless inmate society.


Without cash, and with limits set on how much inmates can spend each week, correctional officers hope to curtail contraband problems historically inseparable from jail society. Cashless systems, though not necessarily utilizing wristbands and complete integration, have already met with success at other jail facilities around the country.

"All the inmates' money is taken from them during booking, and it is then placed into an account which they can access by their name," said Ted Martin, information resource manager for the Pima County Sheriff's Department in Tuscon, Ariz. Pima County's cashless jail was created by utilizing a jail management system designed by Spillman.

According to Martin, the cashless system, for all intents and purposes, has eliminated the illicit transactions that once were common at the county jail.

"Not only can we regulate and monitor the flow of cash, but we can also keep track of where inmate cash is coming from and where it is going. The system also allows us to set volume limits on purchases of certain articles, thereby hindering any attempt by the inmates to set up a non-cash bartering system," added the information manager.

Less flashy, but perhaps more important to both Pima and Knox County, is the computerized records management provided by the new jail management systems.


Paper files, the primary source of record-keeping in most local jails today, are dominated by handwritten, sometimes illegible notes on a prisoner's history and behavior. Traditionally, each time an individual was released, even that dubious record was relegated to the depths of archival vaults, minimizing the chance that jail staff could reference a recidivist criminal's past behavior. Through computerization, records are virtually tamper-proof, accessible to jail staff and can be searched for similarities on almost any basis, from types of crimes to time served.

Full access to information means safer jail environments and fewer lawsuits. The system can track patient medical history and special needs, past criminal behavior and whether they are compatible with other inmates.

"If you've got a guy in who turned informant on his buddies, you are obviously going to have problems if you house him with the people he helped put away. Previously, a note to that effect might have been pasted in with a Post-it note, then lost. Now, the information is accountable and in there for good," said Pima County's Martin.

But human beings must still analyze the information, and during the same 10-year period that saw inmate population grow by 106 percent, the staffing at local jails rose by a whopping 156 percent. Some supporters of the trend toward automation believe that computers may one day help to curtail the rapid growth rate of correctional staff. Still, automation companies shy away from touting this potential benefit for fear of fomenting resistance to their products in local unions, and many of those working in the jails deride the notion that computers can replace correctional officers in inmate supervision.

"There may be some minimal reduction in records-keeping staff, said Glenn Pedal, a computer programming analyst with Forsythe County, "but beyond that I don't think any change is likely. This is not like building automobiles, our product is incarcerated individuals and incarcerated individuals are notorious for not staying where you put them. It will always take real people to make sure inmates are where they are supposed to be."

Raymond Dussault is a freelance writer residing in Sacramento, Calif.


The Knox County Detention Facility's customized system utilizes DEC VAX and Sun Sparc computers, and a DEC relational database programmed in uniface fourth-generation language on a wide-area network.