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Integrated Internal Information and Communication System: Baltimore City Jail

September 1977

Baltimore City Jail is a unique community with an especially intensive set of needs in the realms of information and communication. The needs are an outcome of a major growth of treatment and rehabilitation programs in an institution whose physical structure and security needs seriously impede the effective flow of information and communication.

Recent technological developments in the rapidly growing fields of cable television and computer systems provide the capabilities for an integrated system that can make a major inroad into meeting the information and communication needs of Baltimore City Jail. The component parts of the system -- cable television serving educational and information needs of the resident population and in-service training for staff; two-way video permitting live or pre-recorded news and information bulletins from top administrative staff; a medium for dialog, communication, and conflict-resolution between different interest groups in the Jail; an integrated records system, permitting greatly increased access, with the necessary controls, to composite records of residents; a computer updated information and referral directory; and a telephone system -- can all utilize the same basic format of two-way cables in conjunction with television and telephone and/or typewriter console, console and a central mini-computer.

While some of the component parts of the system can be developed independently of each other, there will be substantial advantages in planning a system in which each of the above components are compatible with each other. For example, if two-way cable is used for the initial installation of a cable television system rather than the slightly less expensive one-way cable, it would become a relatively simple matter to convert television monitors into multi-purpose information centers at a later point.

Cable television provides an extremely efficient, and relatively inexpensive, means for delivery of educational programs, information, and in-service training for staff to any location in the Jail. Arizona State Prison recently installed a cable television system with the capacity of providing service to every cell in the Jail. By the use of scrambling devices, certain channels (out of a normal capacity of twenty) could be reserved for broadcasting for staff and security purposes, with the reminder for use by residents.

Programming for the cable television system could be drawn from pre-existing instructional television programs or created on-site with the establishment of a small studio, portable video equipment, and editing capabilities. An extensive cable system in use at Perry Point Veterans' Administration Hospital uses almost exclusively videotapes produced by in-house staff, and it has been found in that context that material produced in-house has very substantial advantages over pre-recorded materials.

Two-way video would provide the capability of broadcasting live addresses either from the studio or from key locations into the cable system. These broadcasts, for example, daily information bulletins, or emergency broadcasts in the case of an escape or disturbance, could be broadcast over either the resident or the security systems. Input from video monitors covering the Jail perimeter (and other key security locations) could also be accessible through key security channels of the cable system.

Medium for dialog and conflict resolution: There have been a number of creative developments in the use of video as a medium for dialog and conflict resolution; these uses range from simply using video as a means of observing dialog and communication, so as to gain insight into breakdowns of communication; role playing, in which participants assume each other's roles, or act out interactions such as between staff and resident, supervisor and subordinate, and security and support staff in order to gain greater understanding of the different roles and of means for effective communication; communication between different parties or groups through the preparation of videotapes (allowing clearer communication, without the interference that frequently accompanies direct communication between conflicting groups); and dialog with self, as a means for increasing awareness of, and improving, presentation of self. Used for the above purposes, video could have a substantial impact in improving the effectiveness of interpersonal communications within the Jail.

Integrated records system: with the increase of therapeutic programs, conditional release, and educational programs, it is becoming increasingly important for key staff to have access to the overall profile of records on members of the resident population, including legal, social work, medical, psychological, disciplinary, and educational records. Effective access to these records is essential to provide a thorough basis for both the treatment and security components of decision-making, as well as for evaluating the effectiveness of rehabilitative programs. In addition, centralization and co-ordination of these records would make these records accessible to the Parole board, so as to provide a basis for sound decisions in that area.

A system such as the Viewdata system provides the means for access with a television/telephone hook-up to a central records bank. Security of the records in such a system could be maintained either by the use of controlled access codes, or with relatively minor modifications to the system, by credit card style of magnetically encoded card. Input to the system would be by typewriter consoles. With an integrated system such as this, escort requests could be entered into the system (numeric coding of destination, resident's ID, and requestor ID) via the telephone hook-up, with the central mini-computer then able to generate accurate updated escort lists. By keeping information such as this on records, systematic evaluation of the use of services could be maintained.

Information and referral system: the same system as used for the integrated records system could also serve for a computer updated information and referral service, providing readily accessible and accurate information to satisfy the numerous demands faced by social work staff and others, and relieving them of much of that function, so that more of their time could be used for activities for which their professional qualifications better suit them.

Telephone system: Recent developments in cable systems allow for the utilization of video cable for telephone services. One available system allows the user to plug his own portable telephone into a socket on any of the television monitors so that he can place or receive calls on his own extension. Used in conjunction with a beeper system, the integration of telephone services with the television cable system would be a major factor in providing ready telephone access to key staff and administration personnel, many of whom must spend much of their time outside their office, and can be notoriously hard to contact when needed.

Implementation: The overall system outlined above would represent a major undertaking, and might call for a three to five year implementation period. Some components could be installed and developed much more rapidly than others, with the cable television system the obvious first stage of implementation. The cable television system itself could be implemented in stages, by the initial installation of mini-systems each using a 3/4" videocassette player serving three to five monitors, with for example, one mini system based in the library, one in P.S.740, one in Eager Village, and one for security and training. The mini-systems could then be linked up to each other at a later time (the advantages of an integrated system over several mini-systems include improved control of and security of equipment, increased access to the overall videotape library, and increased co-ordination, however, from the standpoint of initial implementation, there are some advantages in setting up one or more mini-systems initially, and the linking of the separate mini-systems poses no technical problems.

With the establishment of studio capabilities, the second two stages of the system would be the next logical steps in the installation of the system, providing two-way capabilities (initially only from the studio) and the means for using video for dialog and conflict resolution. Two-way capabilities can be expanded as needed.

The last three components, integrated records system, information and referral system, and the telephone hook-up, are a natural grouping. These components involve a higher degree of technology, and would require a thorough and comprehensive planning and needs assessment period, in conjunction with a thorough review of the technology involved, and may call for some technological innovations to meet the specific needs of the Jail.

Funding: The innovative nature of the proposed system, in conjunction with the fact that it involves an area of pioneering technology would make the system a prime candidate for funding. The technological aspects of the system, and the fact that the system could serve as a demonstration model for a marketable integrated information system suggest that private sources of funds may well be available, e.g. Ford Foundation, IBM, Texas Instruments, Control Data.

Future developments: In addition to the components of the system described above, there are a number of further areas along which such a system could be developed, including computerized learning systems, for example. The pace of technology in the information and communication fields promises to open up additional avenues for utilization of the above system.

Prepared by
Robert Pollard, Librarian
Baltimore City Jail
September 9, 1977

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