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Ohio to track prisoners with radio tags

Guards will also wear the wristwatch-size tracking devices as part of a pilot program.

One state prison system reckons it's cracked how to keep track of all of its 44,000 inmates: radio frequency identification technology, or RFID.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has approved a $415,000 contract to try out the tracking technology with Alanco Technologies.

The Ross Correctional Facility in Chillicothe, Ohio, will be the site of the pilot project. If all goes well, the technology could eventually be used in all of the state's 33 facilities.

Inmates will wear "wristwatch-sized" transmitters that can track them within the confines of the prison. The devices can also detect whether prisoners have been trying to remove them and send an alert to prison computers.

Staff will also wear transmitters on their belts for security purposes. Guards will be able to activate an alarm manually, but an alert will also be sent if the transmitter is forcibly removed or if the guard is knocked down.

Alanco claims the system will be able to pinpoint the location of staff and prisoners in real time.

The Ross project is not the first such rollout of tracking chips in U.S. prisons. Facilities in California, Illinois and Michigan already employ the technology, and Robert R. Kauffman, Alanco's CEO, said he expects three new states to sign up to use RFID technology.

Prisons are not alone in using RFID technology to track people. Authorities in the Japanese city of Osaka use radio tags to make sure children don't go astray. Tags are affixed to students' clothes or bookbags.

Still, other uses are more common. Delta Air Lines recently announced it would be using RFID to track travelers' luggage. Additionally, it was recently announced that dogs in Portugal are to be tracked with under-the-skin radio tags. But the tags are probably most often used in supermarket and other retail supply chains.

Jo Best of reported from London.