Correctional Facility Security
Jan 1, 1999 12:00 PM
Iris recognition gives positive IDs of prison inmates Biometric technology answers need for foolproof identification at Lancaster County Prison in Pennsylvania.Approximately five years ago, the Lancaster County Prison in Lancaster, Pa., was set to release an inmate who had been incarcerated for driving under the influence of alcohol. Instead, officials released a man who had been arrested for violently raping a woman."He was waiting to be put into the general prison population; he had only arrived 24 hours before," explains Major Vincent Sciotti, who is in charge of the prison's 165 correction officers and 13 supervising personnel. At the time of the incident, Sciotti was not an employee of the jail, which has a capacity to house 1,100 inmates.
The prisoner who escaped apparently threatened the DUI inmate, learned of his vital statistics and took his place. The two inmates had been housed together in a cell and looked alike, Sciotti says."It was the only time anything like this ever happened, but once was enough," he says, echoing the sentiments of jail officials who, after the incident occurred, began researching positive-identification systems. Prison personnel looked at biometric systems based on fingerprint and retina identification. In June of 1996, they implemented, on a trial basis, an identification system based on the configuration of the eye's iris, called IriScan, manufactured by IriScan Inc., Marlton, N.J. The ease of use, relatively low cost and accuracy convinced prison officials to buy the system.The iris recognition system allows individuals to be 10 to 12 inches from the camera lens. "We didn't want anything that would physically touch or hamper the individual," says Sciotti. Iris recognition is the process of identifying individuals based on computer analysis of the unique, randomly formed features of the iris. Images are captured, digitized, processed and stored for future recognition.
With the help of a grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the prison initially purchased a stand-alone system, which included a computer unit, optical unit and installation kit.Satisfaction led them to upgrade to a networked system, IriScan 2100, which was installed in October 1998. Sciotti says the Lancaster County Prison is the first in the country to go on-line with such a system, which includes a file server secured in the business office. This file server is linked by fiber-optic cable to two optical units in the admissions and visitation areas. The optical units include a scanning device and a camera in a black box, about 1-12 feet high by 8 inches wide, which photographs the iris. The device is wired to a nearby monitor, which in turn is wired to a PC that is connected to the main server by fiber-optic cable.
"Previously, when an inmate was released from the prison, he or she went through a series of human checkpoints to confirm identity," says Sciotti. "We looked at their picture, asked for their name, birth date, address, social security number, place of birth and other information. The information was acquired at two separate checkpoints, once by an officer and once by a supervisor. Now, we have a third positive-identification checkpoint."
The IriScan software contains two separate databases for the admissions and visitor areas. Of the two, the admissions area database was the first to be implemented. IriScan will be used in the visitor area beginning in January 1999.Sciotti points out that the admissions area is heavily trafficked, with some 100 inmates per day either being released from prison, or leaving the building for court dates, hearings or medical referrals. IriScan identifies them in two stages. First, when an inmate is admitted to the prison, the software "enrolls" the individual. The enrollment process, like the later recognition process, which searches the database for a matching iris code, involves three exposures and selects the best one. Certain specifications, such as proper focus and sufficient amount of photographed iris, must be met before the system will select an image for storing. When these requirements are met, the program will prompt the operator to input an inmate's name and PIN number. These are stored with the iris code.
The IriScan visitor's file will enroll lawyers, doctors, ministers and other professionals visiting the inmates, as well as family and friends. Once these individuals have been enrolled, they will be scanned for recognition on subsequent visits, but will not need other forms of identification. Presently, two forms of picture identification are required of visitors."This will cut down on a lot of time spent on traditional methods of identification," says Sciotti.
When an inmate leaves the prison building, an operator activates the recognition mode of the program. Again, the inmate's iris is scanned and the best of three pictures is selected. The program then searches the database for the person's iris code. When it is found, the individual's name and PIN number appear on a monitor to complete the identification process.
Inmates also are enrolled in a T-Netix video imaging system. A picture is stored on the computer and a hard copy is printed for the inmate records department, so names and faces are linked.
High-tech security in a low-tech settingLancaster seems an unlikely setting for a prison. Known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country, it has one of the largest populations of Amish people in America and is a magnet for tourists wishing to get a glimpse of these picture-shy people riding in horse-drawn carriages or on bicycles. But, Sciotti explains, the area is close enough to two large cities - Philadelphia and New York - to draw drug traffickers and other criminals.
The four-story prison, which presently houses 950 inmates, covers a city block and is divided into self-sufficient sections called pods for housing, eating, showering, and engaging in recreational activities in yards and gyms. The prison has more than 200 staff members and, as is the custom in Pennsylvania's correctional system, gives paramilitary ranking to employees, such as officer, sergeant, lieutenant, major, associate warden, deputy warden and warden.
Security stations, enclosed by glass, house the controls for the prison's extensive CCTV system of approximately 75 covert and overt, black-and-white, stationary and pan/tilt/zoom Philips/Burle cameras. The second- and third-floor control rooms house operational switches that open and close cells, but in the minimum-security, first-floor pod, correctional officers can operate door and phone controls themselves.
Cameras are located in recreation areas such as the gyms and yards, hallways, at access doors, outside gates and elevators. Since an officer is posted 24 hours per day in the inmate housing areas in the main jail, there are no cameras in most rooms, except for the medical area in which people under suicide-watch are housed. An area housing work-release inmates, who work outside the prison but return at night, however, does have cameras in the housing area. Other security equipment includes the Jailhouse Management System, a database system from Digital Solutions Inc., Altoona, Pa. The system provides extensive information management, allowing the prison to keep such inmate data as charges, description, accounting information, sentencing, housing assignment within the prison and medical records. Pennsylvania's correctional system requires its institutions to transmit this data to the Department of Corrections' Central Office.
"The system includes software that enables us to call the central office and transmit this data to them," says Sciotti.In the future, it is hoped that the IriScan system will be integrated with the Jailhouse Management System.