IoT Applications in Prisons: From a Dusty Lockup to a “Smart Penitentiary Facility”

From real-time location monitoring to discouraging criminal activities within penitentiary facilities, smart technologies offer unique ways to turn a dusty old prison into a complete IoT solution— a "Smart Penitentiary Facility."

Illustration: © IoT For All

Digital transformation is revolutionizing the way we do, monitor and manage everyday things. It has reshaped industry after industry, creating room for further improvement in different aspects of our lives. There’s a new form of prescription medication that uses embedded sensors to ensure that the patient is taking their medicine on the correct timeline, and also monitors their activity and other health metrics. These sensors send a signal to a device worn on a body to ensure proper dosage and usage of drugs. Other examples of digital transformation include supermarket chains like Walmart are implementing facial recognition technology for loss prevention. There are farm owners using drones to monitor fields, map and manage farms.

We have only scratched the surface because the possibilities are almost limitless.

Let’s take a smart prison, for example.

The first thing that springs to our mind when we think of a prison is a dusty old building with medieval infrastructure. Likewise, we are well aware of its sole function – to keep the prisoners locked and isolated from the external world.

However, there’s another side of the coin.

Inefficient monitoring system. Physical security threats. The poor physical and mental health of inmates. Possible prison breaks. Rival gang member fights. Criminal activities such as illegal mobile phone calls, drug smuggling and physical abuse. These are just some of the problems corrections officers, other personnel, visitors and inmates are facing on a daily basis.

But, can you imagine how impactful technology can be when implemented in this kind of environment?

What Value Can IoT Bring to Prisons?

By embracing emerging IoT-based technology and connecting different devices and services across the entire facility, customers can transform prisons into a completely automated IoT solution – a Smart Penitentiary Facility. This way, prisons can promote a safer environment for not only visitors and personnel but also for inmates.

Improvements would include the following:

  • Real-time location monitoring (indoor and outdoor asset tracking)
  • Perimeter lighting and fencing
  • The ability to intercept illegal activities like mobile phone calls and drone activity
  • Deterring criminal activities from within the penitentiary facility

To turn these ideas into reality, prison administrators need to install different kinds of sensors. These sensors include positioning devices, video cameras, perimeter monitors and others. On top of that, the devices need to have a control interface. For instance, video cameras could turn to a given direction, and the gate could close on demand.

But, we should keep in mind that devices in penitentiary facilities are designed, operated and maintained by different vendors. These devices have different communication protocols and hardware standards. All of this usually poses a significant challenge in building penitentiary facility monitoring and control systems.

To make this journey as smooth as possible, we need a core layer: an IoT platform. It integrates all the devices and glues all the services together into a complete and fully automated IoT solution. By using it, we can combine different devices and services across the entire facility and have complete control over the prison.

First, let’s take a look at the devices we need to make this idea come to life.

The Devices to Consider and The Roles They Play in a Smart Penitentiary Facility

1. Devices for Tracking Inmates Location

RFID tracking is one of the best ways to track indoor location (RFID gateways read and detect RFID tags).

Prison administrators can use handcuffs with RFID as a tracking system. In this way, correctional officers know where everybody is at any given time among hundreds or thousands of inmates. It lets them know who took part in a potential incident and where it happened, which helps them do their investigations more efficiently.

Above all, the staff will have all the essential data regarding the inmates’ prison histories stored in a database. As a result, in case of an emergency or an assault, staff will immediately know the identities and prison histories of everyone involved. In other words, police can finish investigations much more quickly without putting a strain on staff.

Smart penitentiary facility administrators can use RFID tags for other purposes as well. For example, they can keep rival gang members away from one another. The system can be set up to trigger an alarm whenever rival gang members get within 10 feet of each other. Similarly, this system can track an inmate suspected of being a “mule”, or a contraband carrier. Therefore, administrators can track a person all day to see where he or she goes and with whom he/she is in contact.

Apart from RFID, Ultra-Wide Band, another radio-based technology (with an error margin less than 1m), is another suitable option for indoor location tracking.

2. Devices for Tracking Inmates Physical Conditions

Police administrators can integrate different types of wearables or non-IP-enabled devices into inmates uniforms. These devices will then transfer data to the IoT platform through the gateways (IP-enabled devices). Plus, they can monitor physical conditions in real time or “offline” (for example, sync data a few times a day).

3. WiFi Security Locks

These locks enable access control and unlocking of security doors. Hence, they offer both security and flexibility.

4. Environmental Monitoring Sensors

We can use sensors to monitor the physical conditions of facilities such as air temperature, air pressure, and air humidity.

The collected data is central to the IoT paradigm: it provides valuable insights that enable you to control and automate processes. Once you know how to use it, you are ready to explore the endless possibilities of IoT.

With that in mind, let’s explore six Applications highlighting successful IoT smart penitentiary facility strategy.

IoT Applications in Prisons to Jumpstart Smart Penitentiary Facility Strategy

Case #1: The Monitoring and Control of Inmates

Through the use of IoT devices directly by the inmates (e.g. handcuffs or different wearables) or when implemented in their uniforms, smart prison administrators can:

  • Monitor and automatically count inmates
  • Monitor movements and analyze the behavior patterns or inmates
  • Determine an inmate’s whereabouts at any time, and, in turn, increase overall security and safety.
  • Monitor inmates’ heart rate, breathing and movements and get notified when the inmate may be trying to attempt suicide. Take a wall-mounted sensor, for example. It allows correctional officers to constantly monitor inmates’ heart rates, breathing and movements and alerts them when it detects signs of self-harm. Convulsions and a slowed heart rate might signal asphyxiation, a common method of suicide among inmates.
  • Monitor the physical condition of inmates suffering from chronic diseases. These conditions include temperature, blood pressure and glucose levels. This lets them diagnose and treat inmates remotely while reducing the risks as well as the costs of transporting inmates that need to see a doctor
  • Physical protection: Alert buttons worn in uniforms

Case #2: Security and Operational Flexibility for Employees and Guards

The use of IoT devices implemented in uniforms or used directly by the employees and guards (e.g. bracelets, mobile apps or other wearables) enables:

  • Presence control
  • Tracing of entrance and exit of the penitentiary’s official staff
  • Uniform validation
  • Security status (for example, emergency buttons)


Each of the facility’s officers could carry a handheld device or a mobile application connected to an IoT platform. This device acts as a gateway, giving them full control over the doors and the functions of inmate housing units. It would allow the staff to operate in any part of the facility without having to stick to a specific geographic location. They would be able to walk into a unit, control the lights and the water, speak over the intercom and still be mobile. This provides operational flexibility.

Case #3: Real-time Security Alerts

The monitoring centre receives the data collected through the communication between control devices and security devices (surveillance cameras, etc.), and then video-monitor events in real-time. This enables access control, unlocking of security doors, locks or spaces with restricted access.

Security and access control devices can send alerts in real time when they detect suspicious behavior in:

  • High-security offices, drawers with classified information
  • Warehouses for weapons or dangerous goods

Or the presence of:

  • People in the areas with restricted access or outside of the schedule

Case #4: Control of Physical Conditions of Facilities (Cells, Visiting Areas, Workshops, Dining rooms, etc.)

By implementing IoT sensors that monitor the conditions of a physical space prison administrators can:

  • Monitor temperature, humidity, smoke, fire conditions, toxic gases, noise levels, etc.
  • Generate alerts to staff in the monitoring center through the IoT platform.
  • Optimize the use of electricity or lighting within cells and other spaces when no one is present in them.
  • Use sensor data on potential problems in electrical installations and hydraulics and alert maintenance personnel before the problem escalates.

Case #5: Geofencing

Geofencing allows the creation of a fence or a boundary around physical installations or areas. This informs a person of physical security threats and detects infractions more efficiently. One way to install it is to use RFID gateways for indoor monitoring and set geofences on the platform.

Case #6: Fleet Control of Patrols and Internal Relocation Vehicles

IoT sensors allow customers to:

  • Monitor location, track routes and transfers in real-time
  • Identify unusual movements or stops as well as any suspicious conditions
  • Track vehicle proximity
  • Monitor vehicle status and fuel consumption
  • Keep track of objects, cargo or passengers
  • Control opening and closing of doors of transport vehicles and patrols

Why and How does IoT Platform Accelerate IoT Adoption in Prisons?

Picture hundreds of devices using different software and hardware communication protocols. It’s at this level that the IoT Platform does its work.

An IoT platform is a core engine that communicates with all the devices. It monitors and controls all operational aspects within and outside of the smart prison – proactively and reactively. By “proactively” we mean by on-demand/time-bound business rules.

For example:

“Each day, at 7:00 AM check that all inmates are in their cells.”

By “reactively” we mean by data-driven rules.

For example:

“Log event that a guard #1 opened high-security area door at 16:23 and notify the responsible officer #2 of such event.”

IoT Platform comes to the rescue to help prisons become a safer environment.

It enables monitoring of all planned activities and allows personnel to react if they’re not in compliance with the rules. Plus, all unplanned events (incidents) are covered by data-driven business rules, which results in a critical call to action.

To make everything run seamlessly, the IoT platform needs to be hardware and connectivity agnostic, decrease the integration cost and promote interoperability of different devices.

What’s more, IoT Platform as a Product enables independence by allowing smart prison administrators to deploy it wherever they want, even on-premises in an enclosed system. Finally, this brings additional value as it ensures efficiency and the highest level of security and data privacy.

Key Takeaways

IoT technology has the potential to transform penitentiary facilities in ways that go well beyond safety and security. To explore and leverage its power, you need an IoT Platform – a support software that glues all the components of the IoT ecosystem together and does all the heavy lifting in transforming a prison to the smart penitentiary facility.

Can technology stop a prisoner from criminal activity? Probably not, but it can certainly help with rehabilitation and create a safer environment for both prisoners and the staff.

With our IoT application-enablement platform built from the ground up for the Internet of Things, WolkAbout is the right partner for companies leaning towards digitally transforming their businesses or building connected products. Our goal is to e...
With our IoT application-enablement platform built from the ground up for the Internet of Things, WolkAbout is the right partner for companies leaning towards digitally transforming their businesses or building connected products. Our goal is to e...