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March 24, 2015

Ohio prison officials decide security drones are not (yet) cost effective

As reported in this local piece, headlined "Prisons no longer testing security drones," Ohio's prison guards do not quite yet have worry excessively about being replaced by technology. Here is why:

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has put a stop to drone testing at the Lebanon and Warren prison sites. Late last year, officials announced they were testing drones, an unmanned aerial system equipped with cameras, on the grounds of the two prisons.  The drones, state leaders hoped, would be a new security model for the state prisons system.

But that testing stopped in December, shortly after it started, this newspaper has learned. A $170,000 aerostat, a balloon-shaped drone equipped with both day and night cameras, was tested on prison grounds in October but officials quickly learned the cameras were not strong enough for the prisons’ security needs, said Ed Voorhies, the managing director of Ohio’s prisons.

Voorhies said state officials decided buying the aerostat wouldn’t be a good investment of taxpayer dollars.  “They’re going to go back to the table and discuss some potential solutions,” he said....

Drones at Ohio’s prisons are still a possibility, Voorhies said, but other security measures will likely be considered, too. “We are looking at technological solutions to augment our existing security,” Voorhies said.

A spokesman for Wright Patterson Air Force Base confirmed researchers are working with state officials but said the work is in “the earliest conceptual stages” and declined to comment further. State prison officials want to step up security cameras placed outside of the prison walls so less contraband — drugs, cellphones and cigarettes, for example — is smuggled into the prison, to prevent inmates from escaping, and to better analyze how fights start between inmates on the grounds, Voorhies said.  In 2013, for example, corrections officers caught nearly 500 cellphones smuggled into the prison.

Ohio became the first known prison system to begin testing drones in October. The testing began just a month after notorious Ohio school shooting killer T.J. Lane and two others escaped from the Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution in Lima.

Voorhies said the two prisons — which sit next to one another and are located in Warren County — will continue to be testing grounds for any new security models introduced. That’s because the state is able to test security for two prisons at once and because the prisons are so closely located to the Air Force Research Lab.

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March 24, 2015 at 10:40 AM | Permalink

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