Tuesday, September 30, 1997

CDC Is Nation's Leader In Technology Evaluation, Testing and Review

A device that detects metal hidden deep within a person’s body...a razor blade that breaks apart when tampered with... a ground scanner that detects tunnels, contraband, utilities or human bodies as deep as 15 feet underground... see-through television sets. These may sound like something straight from a James Bond movie, but today the California Department of Corrections (CDC) is using several of these innovations. Others are being tested and evaluated, and there’s more to come.

CDC’s Technology Transfer Committee is in charge of this mission. Founded in 1982, the TTC evaluates new technology for potential use in CDC institutions. The TTC is made up of CDC wardens and administrators, with representatives from the Board of Corrections, Prison Industry Authority, California Youth Authority, Department of General Services, Federal Bureau of Prisons, California Highway Patrol, Department of Justice and Sandia National Laboratories.

The committee:

  • Serves as a forum for potential technology applications;
  • Recommends standards and specifications for purchasing equipment and systems;
  • Develops operational procedures and test criteria for new technology; and
  • Secures the director’s approval for a new technology’s use in the department.
The committee’s product testing process is rigorous. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, CDC "has one of the toughest prison product testing processes in the nation."

Staff from other state and county correctional agencies regularly sit in on the TTC meetings.

One of the committee’s primary goals is to introduce technology that makes CDC institutions safer for both staff and inmates alike. Developed specifically for CDC, the Rapid Scan X-Ray device is the first conveyorized x-ray machine that can be programmed to detect specific substances such as drugs. As the operator scans a specific drug, the machine reads its molecular structure. Thereafter, the device will detect that drug any time it passes through the scanner.

Among TTC’s most recently approved items are a toothbrush with a beaver-tail shaped handle too small to be turned into a shank, and a razor blade that breaks apart when tampered with — thus making it impossible for an inmate to use the blade for a weapon.

"These new technologies improve safety and save a lot of lives," said Technology Transfer Committee Executive Officer Larry Cothran. "That’s what it’s all about."

After a technology receives committee approval and the director’s approval for testing, it is piloted in a CDC institution.

The department is currently testing a monitoring device at Centinela State Prison that searches automobiles and trucks for human heartbeats and a new fingerprint identification system for entering and leaving an institution.

At the Academy in Galt, the department just finished testing a new state-of-the-art CDC identification card and is just now beginning to test an electronic laser device designed to improve officers’ shooting scores at the range by up to 70 percent.

During a two-day meeting in July, committee members saw presentations on ground penetration radar, protective apparel, cell phone surveillance, see-through televisions, a nonlethal water restraint system, and drug detection technology.

The flashiest of all the technologies the committee looked at was the nonlethal water restraint system, used for riot control in Europe, Africa, South and Central America and the Far and Middle East.

The vehicle designed for correctional use looks something like a golf cart with a huge squirt gun mounted on top.

The see-through televisions also were a hit. See-through televisions would eliminate hiding spaces for contraband and save CDC the man-hours that it now takes an officer to disassemble and search a conventional television for hidden weapons or drugs.

Monday, September 29, 1997


More than 1,000 orange-suited California prison inmates are working side-by-side with other fire crews battling the numerous fires raging throughout the state.

Thirty-four crews, with more than 500 inmates, are battling the Williams fire in Yuba County, while another twenty-four crews are involved in the Tehama County Ponderosa fire.

Inmates from 26 of the state’s 38 conservation camps are cutting fire lines, clearing debris from the fire’s path, setting back-fires and extinguishing smaller fires they encounter.

The 1,131 inmates and 97 staff from the California Department of Corrections (CDC) are assigned to fires in nine counties including Mariposa, Calaveras, Tulare, Tehama, San Luis Obispo, Humboldt, Shasta, Solano and Yuba counties. They will remain on the fires until they are fully contained and will then be deployed to another fire if needed.

The inmates are normally assigned to the conservation camps, or minimum security prisons, located in rural areas throughout the state. The camps house almost 4,000 inmates and are operated jointly by CDC and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF).

CDC oversees camp security and operations; its staff provides the necessary security while inmates are on the fire line. CDF provides firefighting training and supervises inmate firefighting efforts.

Hundreds of inmate crews joined in the state’s flood fighting during this year’s heavy flooding. Inmate crews built the widely publicized berm that protected the Northern California town of Meridien from inundation by the raging flood waters.

Inmates serve their sentences at conservation camps after passing a highly selective screening process and a rigorous firefighting training regime. A typical firefighting inmate is convicted of a nonviolent offense, has an average sentence of two years and will spend about eight months in camp before parole.

When not fighting fires, inmates are dispatched to other emergencies and non-emergency work including earthquakes, wildlife habitat preservation and graffiti removal. In the average fire season, inmates work up to two million hours. They are paid $1.00 an hour on the fire lines.

It is estimated that state and local governments save more than $70 million that otherwise would be paid to accomplish the work inmates perform.