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Ohio is upping its tech game in state prisons

Lebanon prison.jpg
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction
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The amount of technology in Ohio prisons, including the Lebanon Correctional Institution, has been increasing.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction says it’s committed to using technology upgrades to help people who are imprisoned and the guards who work in those prisons. To do that, it’s no surprise that Gov. Mike DeWine hired a tech person to run the prison systems.

ODRC Director Annette Chambers-Smith spent years in Ohio’s prisons system, most recently in the Office of Administration, before leaving to work in the tech sector. “When I came back, I certainly knew that increasing some of our technology resources was going to be a focal point for me,” she says.

Hamilton County is a test case for one type of technology. It's for inmates who've been recently released and under control supervision. Parole officers and police need to make sure the former inmates aren't committing other crimes and get information from ankle bracelets.

“The data coming from the bracelet that the individuals who are in supervision might be wearing — if they’re required to, to tie into police — and you must be able to see who was in a particular location when a crime occurred," says Chambers-Smith.

The prisons system is also studying RFID to track imprisoned people and employees “so we can know where exactly everyone is in the prison at all times.”

Tech for ODRC is not only being used for security, but in health care and education.

Ohio is believed to be the first in the nation to have a special Wi-Fi system for prison education

Chambers-Smith says inmates can take college classes using the same technology other college students do. The department owns 10,000 Chromebook laptops and has a new Wi-Fi network for education.

“You can get college degrees through Ashland University with a tablet," she says. "We are using computers and the Chromebooks to expand the reach of the teachers.”

Inmates are also benefiting from electronic health care.

The prison system uses HEDIS measures to see how effective it is in handling diabetes. Chamber-Smith says that's possible because of an electronic health care system.

Groups still have concerns with technology in prisons nationwide

Other prisons, not in Ohio, use iris-scanning technology to identify inmates in 20 seconds. It's used at the Marion County jail in Indiana and at the Mexico border.

In the United Kingdom, guards have high-tech wands that search cells for hidden cell phones.

There is a concern by some groups who see private surveillance companies taking over prisons. An article in The Appeal says some ankle monitors can record whole conversations without people's knowledge or consent.

Also, there are concerns about surveillance software called Verus, which groups claim transcribes imprisoned people's phone calls and scans the conversations for key phrases. It's unclear how many of those recordings may have violated attorney-client privileges.

With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.