Securing Video for Those Securing Prisoners

As the jail population continues to grow both in size and complexity across the country, protecting those who are incarcerated, as well as the people who guard them, requires a combination of technology and ingenuity. In Harris County, Texas, the third largest county in the United States, authorities are taking proactive steps to provide safety for their staff and the inmate population by using video technology that monitors, manages, and maintains video as evidence.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for managing the jail facilities throughout the entire county, with a population nearing four million people. Standing then stories tall, the 701 Jail facility is the largest facility in the county, with the capability of holding 3,100 inmates in 167 jail cell blocks that are being guarded by over 545 sworn and unsworn sergeants, deputies, and detention officers. It currently houses prisoners that have committed Class B felonies and above.

Inmate Attacks Prompt System Upgrade

Planning a video system to capture incidents that occur in a high quality video format, while managing and storing the substantial amount of video that is being collected at the 701 Jail was a challenge. Incidents such as attacks on peace officers, medical staff, or other inmates needed to be secured as evidence, and having quick access to all the digital evidence when needed was very important for proving what occurred during the incident. Without a good system for managing video, valuable digital evidence could be lost or misplaced. Without a high enough quality video setting, it was difficult to tell who was involved in an incident.

Texas State Law requires that video of inmates be kept for 30 days, but Harris County Jail keeps all video for 90 days for historical purposes and in case an incident is reported after the mandatory 30 days. The challenge in meeting this requirement was the amount of storage the video required demanded a lower frame rate per second, which would result in poor video quality, such as ghosting and pixelation making it difficult to detect who was involved in an incident. Another consideration was that there would be a lot of information generated both during times when inmates were active, and times when they were inactive, and all of it would be recorded using the same low video frame rate. During times of inactivity, the likelihood that offenses will occur is highly unlikely, so this would mean that much of the massive amount of storage would occur when nothing was going on. Many adjustments to the video frame rate, storage, and retention time were going to be required to maximize the new video system.

The network architecture at Harris County Sheriff’s Office is very unique. A dual network system was designed to control the environment. There is a city-wide network infrastructure that is accessible from any location on the network and there is an isolated network that is highly secured. Category 6 video cable serves as the backbone to a 1GB fiber network. The fiber network converges to a network switch and converts to 10GB to a remote building for storage and archiving. Camera systems are on an independent network with the system that houses CMS Flex being a closed network. This unique architecture allows a very controlled system for protecting video from the Jail.

Installing a Complex, IP-Based Solution

Insight Video Net partnered with Southern Folger Detention Equipment, a prison-hardware firm, to consult with the team from Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Harris County Sheriff’s Office Technology Director Chris Gore served as the lead to design a unique, IP-based security upgrade solution for the facility. The 701 Jail currently hosts 354 cameras that are IP-based, with the exception of 12 analog cameras with Verint encoders in the elevators. There is currently no rated cabling available for IP cameras in elevators so IP cameras were not an option.

Genetec Omnicast’s Virtual Matrix software manages all the live video that is accessible by 35 viewing stations across the facility, and because the system is generating a lot of video that has to be managed over a long period of time (90 days for all video), there are a total of eight servers for storing and archiving video in the system (four active, two hot standby, and two back-ups). A product called WonderWare was already in operation at the 701 Jail, and Insight Video Net developers created an ActiveX component to interface with the Genetec Omnicast Virtual Matrix software so that cameras would begin recording when doors were accessed.

Initially, the design called for a complex system of sensors that would begin recording at higher frame rates when triggered. For instance, when a jail cell was opened or closed, a panic button, intercom, or duress call was activated, or an elevator was being accessed, it would trigger recording at a higher frame rate. It was decided that the system could work more efficiently if the video frame rate was increased, instead, when motion was detected rather than developing the complex system with triggers. Currently the video is being recorded at D1 resolution and set to record three frames per second when there is no motion and 30 frames per second when movement is detected.

If you enjoyed this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

Security Is Our Business, Too

For professionals who recommend, buy and install all types of electronic security equipment, a free subscription to Commercial Integrator + Security Sales & Integration is like having a consultant on call. You’ll find an ideal balance of technology and business coverage, with installation tips and techniques for products and updates on how to add to your bottom line.

A FREE subscription to the top resource for security and integration industry will prove to be invaluable.

Subscribe Today!

Get Our Newsletters