Mar 1, 2002 12:00 PM

Prince George's County, Md., is a hub of innovation. It was the birthplace of telegraphic messaging, the mass production of antibiotics and the U.S. military's first helicopter flight. It's no surprise, then, that the Prince George's County Department of Corrections (DoC) would draw the interest of government agencies seeking a proving ground for the latest security technology.

Maryland's second largest correctional facility is a maximum-security, pre-trial detention center commissioned by various courts and government agencies to detain convicted criminals and arrestees waiting for bond, release or sentencing. Inmates are incarcerated for anything from drug-related crimes to multiple murders, and some have been arrested by the U.S. Marshal Service and U.S. Attorney's Office for federal crimes such as identity fraud and suspected terrorism.

Prince George's County Correctional Center is located in the Washington D.C. corridor, with 17 housing units covering 10 acres. More than 20,000 inmates come through it annually, with an average daily inmate population of 1,050. For the last 15 years, the DoC has successfully used a "direct supervision" model to govern its inmates. This unconventional approach involves training correctional officers to direct and supervise inmates within each barrier-free housing unit. The model has worked so well that there have been no security breaches since 1989 and no suicides in many years ! statistics unheard-of within the U.S. prison system. The correctional center recently developed an automated arrest and booking system, the efficiency of which resulted in its regional adoption and integration into the state record system.

Under the leadership of DoC Director Barry Stanton, the Prince George's DoC has become known as one of the most well-managed institutions in the country.

Interested visitors have flocked to tour the facility, including former President Clinton and Department of Defense officials. It has also earned international respect: The Japanese have sent envoys to study DoC management techniques; the Israeli military has received emergency response training following the DoC model; and the British Embassy recently considered DoC technology initiatives when planning a security upgrade in Great Britain. "We have been showcasing the application of new approaches and technology for government officials for many years," says Colonel Milton Crump, deputy director of chief operations at the Prince George's DoC.

Despite its efficiencies, the DoC lacked an electronic access control system to encompass its needs. Inmate monitoring was not a chief concern since fence alarms, a network of CCTV cameras and officer surveillance supervised internal facility activity. However, the dated time-and-attendance system raised security issues ! it could not instantly determine the location of employees in the event of an emergency.

The center's 425 employees were assigned proximity ID cards that grant them access to certain areas. The security database recorded which doors the cards accessed but could not identify an employee's exact location, meaning that should a crisis occur, management would have no way of accounting for staff. Tracing visitors, volunteers, vendors and contractors was not as difficult, because correctional officers visually and electronically screened each arrival, who signed in and received an ID card granting restricted access to designated areas.

"We couldn't tell which employees were in the building at any given time," says Lieutenant Colonel Carl Crumbacker, chief of security at the DoC. "We do a great job with visitors; we could tell you who and where they are. But employees come and go all day long and cannot easily be tracked."

An even more daunting thought for Crumbacker was a potential crisis that would demand immediate employee identification: an escaped inmate who sought sanctuary in a nearby community, an external attempt to free an inmate, a mass inmate revolt or even terrorism.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides support to the nation in times of crisis and helps create disaster-resistant communities. In 1997, Crumbacker attended a disaster preparedness workshop at the FEMA Training Academy, where he was posed with a crisis unique to him: A tornado just hit the Prince George DoC and the entire facility has collapsed ! what do you do?

Are employees in every building? Yes. Do we know who they are? No. Is anyone accounted for? No.

Crumbacker recalls that his FEMA training experience raised unsettling security concerns ! perimeter leaks, potential inmate violence, and unidentified and unaccounted-for staff. His chief interests were the safety of employees and security of the facility, and neither had been compromised to date. But the possibility motivated Crumbacker to pursue a major access control system upgrade.

"We didn't have any existing problems that necessitated an immediate security overhaul. It was more a desire to stay ahead of the game," Crumbacker says. But fiscal limitations at the Prince George's DoC bridled the chief's hopes for a security makeover. "The Department of Corrections had no extra money to work with, which forced us to depend on external funding."

Crump and Crumbacker continued to build their database of arrest information and inmate photo images in the automated booking system. By 1998, they were prepared to share it with two governmental organizations that often assist each another in their respective counterdrug activities: the Department of Defense (DoD) Counterdrug Technology Development Program Office and the Washington/Baltimore High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (W/B HIDTA).

The W/B HIDTA, chartered to eliminate drug distribution in the Washington D.C./Baltimore area, works to eradicate drugs through prevention, treatment and law enforcement. The Prince George's DoC, which detains many of the criminals watched by HIDTA, has a working relationship with its law enforcement arm to identify repeat offenders. Having populated its regional booking system with detailed arrest information and mug shots, the DoC was ready to grant HIDTA and the DoD Counterdrug Office real-time access to this proprietary database.

"The information provided [by the DoC] was a virtual goldmine of criminal data," recalls Tom Carr, director of the W/B HIDTA. "The images and history would significantly help us track drug-related crimes committed by repeat offenders and apprehend them."

As a gesture of reciprocal cooperation, HIDTA and the DoD Counterdrug Office asked if they could help the DoC in any way. Crumbacker quickly pointed out his security concern ! employee accountability ! to which Carr had just the idea.

HIDTA has grown familiar with new law enforcement technologies used to fight drugs. In fact, Carr recently had been involved in a meeting with various state organizations to explore the potential benefits of bringing facial recognition technology to Maryland. He recommended that Crumbacker consider the technology. The suggestion was plausible, but required more funding than HIDTA or the DoC had available.

Several months passed and word of the DoC's security goals circulated through various federal agencies. The DoD Counterdrug Office's program manager took particular interest in the DoC's automated booking system because the database supporting it could represent the backbone of a larger-scale facial recognition network. Besides that, the Counterdrug Office represented the DoD's interests in the development of facial recognition applications and was tasked with the operational evaluation of such technology.

"The DoD likes to test equipment in an area that will be seen by a lot of military officials," Crumbacker says. "These kind of people frequent our facility, so why not test it here?"

In early 1999, Crumbacker received a call from HIDTA requesting a joint meeting with a DoD Counterdrug Office official. They planned to consider if the Prince George's DoC could handle a pilot project using facial recognition technology. It was agreed that a biometric-based access control system would be developed. Not only would the system provide the DoD a high-profile testing ground for the technology, it would also furnish the DoC with the employee accountability solution it sought.

The DoD Counterdrug Office's close relationship with the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) took Crumbacker to the Navy's technology development facility in Crane, Ind. The NSWC Crane Division develops high-tech security and weaponry used to defend the United States at home and abroad. As such, its engineers are exposed to the newest, most advanced technologies. Commissioned to put together the new DoC security system, Crane chose to employ the resources of Visionics Corp., Jersey City, N.J., a supplier of FaceIt facial recognition technology used for verification, identification and surveillance and of Group 4 Securitas Technology Corp., Torrance, Calif., a supplier of integrated access control systems.

Group 4's AMAG access control system, designed to support applications like Visionics' biometric technology, would provide the cardholder tracking tools necessary to keep the DoC campus safe and secure. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), a sponsor of facial recognition technology, provided the grant to fund the project's development and installation in Prince George's.

Unfortunately, the DoC was pressed for space. A partially completed construction project, which included the reconstruction of the employee screening area where the system would be employed, delayed installation until late 2001. While construction continued, management sought to familiarize its correctional officers with facial recognition technology.

The first phase began in October 2001 with the DoD testing the facial recognition system's parameters in a nearby conference room. Once the tests were completed and construction had ended, the access control and facial recognition systems were transferred to the employee screening area. The DoC then enrolled employees and their photo images into the Group 4 and Visionics databases. In early 2002, employees began receiving the new ID cards, which contained their unique employee information and enrollment images.

The synergy of Group 4's AMAG and Visionics' FaceIt systems enables security personnel to grant employee access to the correctional center while biometrically confirming the identity of the cardholder. To enter or exit the inner facility, employees must pass their ID cards in front of card readers located on either side of an electronically-controlled door. Security personnel monitor entrants from an open-walled office along the hallway leading to the door and decide to unlock it based on information sent from the entry-side card reader. Exiting employees simply present their cards to the reader inside the secured area of the facility.

This access control scenario ensures only enrolled cardholders can enter and leave the DoC. An improvement from its predecessor, the system's data collection and reporting functions allow security staff to know exactly where employees are at any given time.

"When employees come in, they're logged into the system and tracked throughout the facility until they leave," Crump says. "Besides that, employees cannot reenter if they didn't log out. There's now complete accountability in the system."

Exiting cardholders, however, pose a greater security threat than their incoming counterparts. For instance, how would security personnel identify an escaping inmate who obtained an employee access card?

When an employee passes by the card reader on the secured side of the electronically controlled door, his or her information is matched to a facial scan template in the biometric database. The employee then enters the hallway and faces an on-looking camera, which is also wired to the facial recognition system. The system then compares the CCTV live image to the DoC database of enrolled employee images to confirm the identity of the cardholder. A "high confidence match" assures security officers the cardholder is an employee. But if a "low confidence match" is generated, an alarm sounds, alerting security personnel of a possible security breach. The provision helps to prevent inmates from escaping under false identity.

"The Visionics technology provides an objective criteria for verifying employee identities within the facility and the Group 4 system maintains exact accountability of their movements once they are in. Together, they supply the employee safety and facility security we initially wanted in a security system," Crumbacker says.

It is likely that the W/B HIDTA and DoD Counterdrug Office will eventually use facial recognition technology on a broader scale, given the initial success of the DoC installation. The DoC is already looking to expand its use of facial recognition technology. The Visionics system may one day screen visitors against a "hit list" of ex-inmates and generate "go" or "no-go" decisions directly to the electronically-controlled door. Given its pioneering disposition, the DoC welcomes these possibilities ! and other new technologies the government needs to test.

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