In 2009, two inmates at the Cummins Unit prison in Arkansas stole guard uniforms and escaped, prompting the Arkansas Department of Correction to place five guards on leave for letting it happen on their watch. The prisoners were later caught, but Arkansas took steps to prevent it from happening again.

The department installed fingerprint scanners later that year to track the movement of inmates and staff in several state correctional facilities. “At most of our facilities now, we have biometric enrollment of visitors and staff,” said Sheila Sharp, the Correction Department’s deputy director.

Biometric technology, which includes iris scanners and other biological identification devices, has been working its way into correctional facilities.

But adoption of these new tools often is hindered by old offender management systems at many facilities. “We’ve found industrywide that there’s a large amount of states still using legacy systems,” said Ben Harrell, director of sales and marketing for corrections management software provider Marquis Software. He said COBOL systems in particular can’t store images, which makes sorting pictures of prisoners difficult.

Doug Smith, CIO of the Florida Department of Corrections, agrees. His office runs a COBOL-based mainframe offender management system, and budget restrictions impede upgrade possibilities. “It would be nice to move to a newer platform, but that involves great expense,” he said. “We’re primarily general-revenue-funded. We don’t have a lot of trust funding, so it’s an enormous expense to the taxpayer.”

Photo: Luigi Caterino/Flickr CC. Read about more dirty jobs in government.

Hilton Collins, Staff Writer Hilton Collins  |  GT Staff Writer

By day, Hilton Collins is a staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines who covers sustainability, cybersecurity and disaster management issues. By night, he’s a sci-fi/fantasy fanatic, and if he had to choose between comic books, movies, TV shows and novels, he’d have a brain aneurysm. He can be reached at hcollins@govtech.com and on @hiltoncollins on Twitter.