Using Technology to Flatten the Coronavirus Curve in Jails

By DJ Kreal

NASHVILLE—In this digital age, technology has become almost impossible to avoid. There are apps for everything, from public transportation to vintage shopping. One of the last frontiers is the jail system, as many correctional facilities still use the cumbersome pencil-and-paper method for data recording and inmate checks.

Integrating technology into the jail system can lead to considerable increases in the efficiency of staff. Digital monitoring systems help streamline workflows, resulting in as much as a 75 percent reduction in time spent dispensing medications, monitoring inmates and other daily tasks.

Technology can also aid in knowledge sharing. There are many moving parts that require tracking in jails. With a digital management system, every inmate check, meal, medicine dispensation and recreational activity can be recorded and reported to the entire staff in real-time. Not only does this require greater accountability for daily responsibilities, but it also leads to fewer errors overall.

Now that jails around the country are dealing with the potential spread of COVID-19 in their facilities, efficiency and knowledge sharing are hugely important. Due to the overcrowding of many jails and the close quarters in which inmates live, the speed at which coronavirus can spread across inmate populations and facility staff is rapid. For example, within a seven-day period, Cook County jail in Chicago, IL went from reporting their first confirmed case to 98 infected inmates and staff, with tests for 92 others pending.

One solution is to tap into technology to slow the spread of the virus. Digital jail management systems that allow correctional officers to assess inmates’ symptoms of coronavirus from a safe distance exist. For example, on JailCore’s system, correctional officers can fill out a digital questionnaire about an inmate’s symptoms, and this questionnaire recommends quarantining the inmate or not based on his or her responses.

The method of digital assessment is safe for staff and inmates, as it does not require immediate contact between the two. It also eliminates the need for inmates to be brought to a computer lab or touch a shared laptop or iPad. If the inmate has already been infected, isolation can begin the moment the assessment is completed.

Another benefit of digital COVID-19 assessments is the aspect of visual representation that’s available on some platforms. On JailCore’s system, once quarantining is suggested for an inmate, his or her photo is immediately marked with the COVID-19 graphic. Integrated technology systems like ours allow this graphic to go live on all correctional officers’ systems immediately, which means there is no lag in knowledge sharing amongst staff members. Plus, universally recognized graphics like the COVID-19 symbol are easily understood by all officers, leading to fewer mistakes.

You can replicate this low-risk method of assessment without a high-end management system. Consider equipping your correctional officers with tablets linked directly to the CDC’s COVID-19 self-questionnaire and quizzing inmates outside their cells. If you must, you can also print copies of a questionnaire for officers’ use. However, you lose the critical aspect of immediate knowledge sharing with this method.

If you work at a facility that still uses paper recording methods, consider gradually introducing technology into your workplace this month. What better time than now to experiment with cellular device applications or even simple digital tracking systems like clocking inmate checks in a Google Excel document? The stakes are higher now than they have been in many years.

At the end of the day, technology in the jail system helps flatten the curve by providing all correctional officers on staff with real-time data to help manage sick inmates as efficiently and effectively as possible. The keyword here is transparency across all communication platforms.

One of a leader’s many duties is to ensure as safe a working environment as possible. While combating the spread of a deadly virus is a novel dilemma for many correctional facility managers, today it is one of our greatest struggles. I challenge you to consider how integrating technology into your facility can help you deliver transparency and safety to your staff and inmates today.

DJ Kreal is the Founder and CEO of JailCore, a cloud-based correctional facility management and compliance platform. JailCore was founded in 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee when Kreal saw an opportunity for improvement in the correctional system’s inefficient pencil-and-paper method of data recording. Today, JailCore serves counties across the United States.