Correctional News Participates in Technology-Centered Executive Focus Group

EXETER, R.I. — Correctional News participated in a collaborative forum to help executives identify agency needs regarding the use of inmate telephones in investigations.

Alex and Dorothy Fox of ADF Consulting developed and facilitated the Executive Focus Group, which was held Nov. 11, 2011, at the National Domestic Preparedness Coalition headquarters in Exeter, R.I. The program brought together correctional and law enforcement industry leaders and a private sector technology company, JLG Technologies. Mass.-based JLG develops and provides advanced biometric voice recognition technology that assists correctional agencies in gathering telephone intelligence for corrections investigations. The forum created a unique opportunity for industry leaders to impact the research and development of technology that benefits the corrections and law enforcement fields. Conversely, the private-sector company had an opportunity to learn from subject matter experts and obtain critical input to help shape its product and the company’s direction.

The Foxs’ spent many years as correctional administration professionals, as well as working in the private sector, and have seen both sides of the fence.

“What we’ve learned is that oftentimes the public and private sectors want the same thing, but there is a disconnect between the two,” said the Foxs’. It’s simple — corrections and law enforcement need and want advanced technology to help them meet their mission. Private companies want to produce technology that adds value for their customers. They want to better understand their concerns, and in order to do that they need access to correctional leaders but don’t have many avenues to do it. We saw a gap that we thought could be filled through an open collaborative process that would be mutually beneficial.”

The focus group industry experts and leaders included Correctional News’ Ahavah Revis, managing editor, Emlen Media; John Armstrong, former commissioner, Connecticut DOC and professor at SUNY Fulton-Montgomery Community College; Allan Turner, former warden, U.S. Penitentiary in Marion and professor at George Mason University; Richard Roy, former deputy commissioner and Inspector General, New York DOC; and Kenneth Glantz, executive director, National Domestic Preparedness Coalition.

The program’s subject matter was quite interesting in terms of its relevance in corrections, said Revis.

“As we all know, investigations play a critical role in preempting and mitigating criminal activity and disorder within prisons. Inmates often communicate with individuals on the outside to aid them in illicit behavior, so obtaining intelligence from phone conversations is crucial to conducting successful investigations.”

Prevention v. Reaction

Recording and listening to phone calls is standard practice in correctional investigations and phone system sophistication ranges from simple recording devices to advanced biometrics. Most systems in use include basic recording and pre-call validation features. Investigators listen to calls to obtain information, but it is usually after the fact. Since inmates obviously attempt to conceal their identities, any telephone surveillance technology that can help investigators identify the perpetrators before incidents occur — rather than just gathering information after the fact — is immensely beneficial to corrections.

As noted, voice biometrics technology is often used in inmate phone systems to verify an individual’s identity based upon a previously obtained sample of their voice, or “voice print.” There are four levels of voice biometric technology: pre-call voice validation, periodic voice verification, continuous voice verification and continuous voice identification. The most elementary type is pre-call voice validation, where inmates follow automated prompts to verify that their voice matches the assigned PIN owner before a call is allowed to go through. Periodic voice verification works in the same way, except that inmates are randomly prompted to revalidate during the call. Continuous voice verification verifies only the PIN owner’s identity throughout the call. The fourth level of voice biometric technology, continuous voice identification, differs in that it detects the identity of all individuals speaking on a call throughout the call.

JLG’s system, the Investigator Pro, uses the most advanced biometrics, continuous voice identification, whose core originated from Department of Defense technology. It covertly identifies all inmates speaking on the call for the entire duration of the call. This means that if the inmate passes the phone to another inmate, or multiple inmates speak on a call, the system “recognizes” the identity of all the inmates. The system also has features that identify high-target inmates who have spoken on calls initiated by other inmates using their PINs that would normally be impossible to detect.

Productive Day

The day’s agenda focused on JLG’s use of continuous voice identification technology and included a live demonstration. To foster the most productive exchange of ideas, participants were provided ample material about the technology and the company several weeks before the forum. Therefore, the table was well versed and full of creative ideas from the start.

“I was struck by the open-mindedness and foresight of JLG President Jay Gainsboro. While companies often want information, it is uncommon for them to reach out to high-level executive leaders in corrections and welcome completely honest and uncensored feedback. Put at ease, we felt comfortable to engage in a thoroughly open dialogue,” said Revis.

Key topics tackled during the forum included identifying the challenges and gaps correctional agencies face in conducting telephone investigations, given the limitations of the most commonly used technology. The group also brainstormed ways the existing product could be improved upon to better facilitate the complex demands of agency investigations. As this is a forward-thinking topic, the panel explored ways the product could be enhanced in the future to encompass a more comprehensive investigations process. The group also identified other potential law enforcement agencies that could benefit from this type of advanced biometrics phone surveillance.

One of the most important topics addressed was how to successfully optimize technology for operational and policy improvements. Common sense dictates that even the best technology can only better the agency if it is understood, accepted and used to support the most efficient business process. A strong point was made that because this type of technology has such a widespread impact on operations and offers the potential to preempt crime and disorder, it addresses a critical need that administrators care about. Thus, the importance of educating executive staff on the capabilities and benefits of the technology was stressed. The loud-and-clear message was that support from the top leadership is vital to ensure successful adoption and maximum benefit to the agency — a message that aptly applies to both the agency and the private company. 

Gainsboro said he was surprised to hear firsthand from industry leaders about how much agency heads actually care about what this type of system could do for them. He felt a great deal was accomplished, and he received a wealth of ideas and insight that he is committed to putting into action. Gainsboro also said that he is looking forward to changes that will ultimately help his company and technology advance and develop in a way that will benefit his customers in the correctional field, as well as extend his offerings to the broader law enforcement community. 

The goal at Correctional News is to share current issues, products, and technologies with our readership, and the publication is always looking for ways to bring innovative programs and best practices to the field to support the core mission of corrections.

“I found the Executive Focus Group to be particularly successful and attribute this to the open exchange between top-notch leaders with deep insight and expertise, a receptive and creative company president, and facilitators with the experience to drill down to expose the important issues,” said Revis. “It was indeed a win-win for the public and private sectors.”

Visit JLG Technologies at Booth #101 at ACA’s Winter Show in Phoenix.