Mapping the Future of Corrections

An intelligence-led approach to offender management

The May 2011 decision by the US Supreme Court ordering California to ease prison overcrowding by aggressively reducing their prisoner population sent shockwaves through the California corrections and law enforcement community. It also served to put the other states on notice as well. For California, the result has been the release of thousands of prisoners into communities at a time when state and local police are ill-equipped to deal with them, and parole and probation agencies are already overburdened and understaffed. The consequence is that there are now significantly more offenders requiring community supervision, but fewer personnel to meet this need. The subsequent increase in caseloads requires local agencies to work smarter and work together—in essence, to have an intelligence-led approach to community corrections.

As in other areas of law enforcement, a geographic approach provides increased efficiency and effectiveness for all of the agencies engaged in community corrections. Those offenders sentenced to supervised release can be tracked passively or actively and geo-fences can be created to alert law enforcement, parole or probation if a subject strays into a prohibited area (i.e.; schools, daycare centers). Their “tracks” can also be plotted against crime data for location, crime type and time. Additionally, parole and probationary caseloads can be analyzed to assign officers geographically and optimize routing of personnel to maximize their effectiveness. This information can be easily disseminated among participating agencies and shared with the public through mapping portals and apps. The result is increased offender supervision, proactive case management, an improved view of daily operations, better interagency cooperation, improved planning capability, strategic resource deployment and management, and in the end, cost and time savings.

The correctional facility similarly benefits from the use of GIS in a multitude of areas. Facility management provides the opportunity to digitally map an entire correctional facility to understand the “where” within. This provides the opportunity to visualize camera locations and viewsheds as well as the location of other types of sensors (microphones, fire alarms, door alarms). It provides the location of safety equipment (first aid, breathing apparatus), controls and locks, shutoffs (water, electrical) as well as the ability to create a knowledge-based system providing alerts for employee training, inspections and scheduled equipment maintenance. A geospatially enabled facility can use GIS not only to map and identify specific locations within the facility (beds, cells, cell blocks, dining areas, etc.), but also connect inmates to a specific location (bed and cell), with all of the associated data about that inmate, including booking information, criminal history and housing classification data. Other information can also be made available, including gang affiliation, officer safety, escape-risk or suicide hazard, and disciplinary history. As on the streets, crime data within the facility can be identified, analyzed, and mapped. Trends are then identified and mitigation (prevention) measures can be taken, increasing both officer and inmate safety.

Both corrections and law enforcement are facing new and difficult challenges in offender management. GIS provides an opportunity to save time and money while providing an intelligence-led approach for improving safety in corrections facilities and in our communities.

How do you envision the future use and value of GIS in corrections?

Lew Nelson

About Lew Nelson

Lew Nelson has served as the global law enforcement solutions manager for Esri since May 1998 after retiring as chief of police with 30 years of law enforcement service. He has worked with GIS in the law enforcement field for over 20 years.
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