Standing Up To Abuse
Standing Up To Abuse

Oct 1, 2004 12:00 PM
By Randy Southerland

The DeSoto Juvenile Detention facility near Arcadia, Fla. ! a campus of 14 buildings ! was originally constructed for the U.S. Air Force. It has served as a mental health facility that at times employed hundreds of the citizens in this small town some 70 miles southeast of Tampa.

Today, as part of the state's Department of Juvenile Justice, DeSoto houses young people convicted of substance abuse and diagnosed as high-risk substance abuse and mental health cases.

Among the 120 residents aged 14 to 18, maintaining order and safety is a high priority. All of the residents have committed crimes and have a mental or substance abuse problem. All have been involved in violent activity before being admitted. Unlike low-security facilities for teens that resemble summer camps, this location is surrounded on all sides by high fences with razor wire. The inmates are closely monitored by guards.

Officials realized they needed a security system that allowed corrections officials to both monitor and help to control inmates. A challenge to the project lay in the fact that the buildings were aging and in need of repair. Both the military and the state mental health agency previously gave up the facility because they did not want to bear the maintenance and upkeep costs.

The state called in Jacksonville, Fla.-based Systems Technologies Inc. (STI), to assist in the renovation efforts. They faced the task of wiring the facility for CCTV, door controllers and intercoms that could be monitored and activated from a central location.

"[The] control room was not very big, so space was at a premium," says Steve Oplinger, a detention systems specialist with STI and a long-time veteran of building security systems for Florida prisons. "They wanted CCTV monitors in there so they could monitor the facility. They needed control of the intercom system, the lock system and the light system as well as the fire alarm system ! all in that room."

All of this equipment needed to fit into what had once been a waiting area for a clinic office that was just 10 ft. by 12 ft.

"[Installing] a graphic panel with 14 buildings would have taken up the entire space," he adds. "So we went with a touch-screen control system with multiple screens."

To find the right system for a highly secure environment like DeSoto, STI turned to the SecurePlex application provided by Skokie, Ill.-based Rauland-Borg. The SecurePlex Systems provide a range of communications systems for use in correctional applications including administrative intercom, door-video control, high-security, nurse call, visitor-to-inmate telephone systems, sound disturbance alarm and paging.

This intelligent Logic Control system provided the ability to operate a large number of doors, lights and other devices and also pack all of them into a rack space.

Since space was at a premium, the team decided against new construction and opted for remodeling, says Oplinger. Even better, the SecurePlex system was able to network the facilities' various systems.

"We took four buildings in a hub, and we used one SecurePlex rack with a CCTV interface involved in it so that each of those four buildings go to that one hub and then that data cable comes back to the control room," Oplinger explains. "So I've reduced the amount of wiring coming in the control room."

When an inmate or guard arrives at a door and uses the intercom keypad, a signal is sent to the control room, and that particular door is pulled up on the touch-screen. By touching the screen or clicking a mouse, a two-way audio channel is opened and the image from the associated CCTV camera also pops up, giving the operator a visual link to the location as well.

"So now you can see whether or not the guard is trying to come into a door, whether the guard is being compromised by a prisoner, or whether the prisoners are messing with the doors," he says.

From the control room, operators can also control the unlocking of doors. By clicking on a screen icon, the door alarm can be deactivated and the door opened. Once the person has passed through, it can be locked and put into secure mode.

Officials decided not to allow card access through doors, thus minimizing the danger of lost or stolen access cards.

In addition, all images are recorded on digital cassette recorders provided by GE Security and stored on a central hard drive. These records can be accessed and used as evidence when needed.

Running cable from several different locations housing cells for the inmates required a lot of retrofitting. The work had to be done as construction crews were finishing their work on the 70-year-old buildings ! but before ceilings and other areas were closed and sealed.

Durability was a primary factor. With an inmate population prone to violence, both people and the equipment had to be protected. The cameras had to be sturdy enough to stand up to any abuse that might be handed out by prisoners.

"A juvenile facility is probably 10 to 15 times more susceptible to damage than an adult facility," Oplinger says. "[These juveniles] have more time on their hands and they're just flat out more creative."

STI had provided CCTV systems for a number of prisons and jails throughout Florida and had settled upon a single brand for its projects. In these environments, it was not possible to use the standard mounts for cameras without providing prisoners the opportunity to hang themselves or others from them.

Oplinger chose Warrior dome cameras from Atlanta-based Videolarm after testing the armored units in an abusive situation.

"I unplugged the camera, I walked out of our conference room, down the hall, through the warehouse right into the parking lot and threw the camera off the dock and let it bounce in the parking lot," Oplinger recalls.

When the camera finally came to rest on the hard pavement, he picked up the unit, quietly walked back to the conference room and asked the company representative to show him what the picture looked like now.

The picture from the Videolarm camera came up as clear as it had minutes before. Within days, the company had ordered 175 units for installation at DeSoto. In addition to being able to withstand the blow from a 10-pound sledgehammer, the camera's lens is also equipped with a clear sheet of Mylar film to protect it from spray paint.

Most of the cameras are ceiling- or wall-mounted to cover hallways and common areas of the facility. Each unit feeds back to a central mechanical room in each building where the head-end equipment ! including multiplexers and switchers ! are housed. From there the images are data-lined back to the central control room.

Cameras are programmed to record the cafeteria during meals, but then are switched off as other cameras monitor the athletic fields while inmates are located there. Changes to this scheduling can be made directly from the control room keyboard.

A feature of the system is that it is expandable. As the detention facility grows to accommodate more and more troubled youth, the security system will grow along with them.

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