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L.A. County jail tags inmates with RFID

Country's largest jail system launches radio frequency pilot project in hopes of cutting down on prison violence.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
2 min read
The next fashion accessory for some inmates at the Los Angeles County jail will be a radio frequency identification bracelet.

The country's largest jail system has launched a pilot project with Alanco Technologies to track inmates using the technology, also known as RFID.

The first phase will involve setting up an RFID system in the 1,800-inmate east facility of the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic, Calif., by fall 2005. If it succeeds, and funding can be obtained, the county will spread the system throughout its prison facilities.

In prison networks with such technology, RFID readers are planted throughout a jail in such large numbers that bracelet-wearing inmates can be continually tracked. When an inmate comes within range of a sensor, it detects his or her presence and records the event in a database. Thus, if an assault occurs at night, prison officials can look at the RFID logs and identify who was at the scene at the time of the incident. Tampering with the bracelet sends an alarm to the system. The system can also warn of gang gatherings.

Orwellian as tagging sounds, inmate violence has declined in prisons where similar RFID systems have been installed, according to Alanco. Guards also wear RFID tags in these facilities.

"The primary concern of the sheriff's department is the safety of both our staff and the inmates housed in our facilities," said Marc Klugman, chief of the Sheriff's Correctional Services Division.

In 2004, there were an estimated five inmate deaths, and injuries to 1,742 inmates and 88 jail staff in the seven facilities that make up the L.A. county jail system, according to the county.

Alanco estimates that the prison system alone could become a billion-dollar market, while jails could account for $500 million to $700 million in revenue.