Americans are not typically aware of how their federal and state prison systems work. What we think we know, we learned from watching television. When I took my first walk through at FCI (Federal Correctional Institution) El Reno Oklahoma as a new employee, I was surprised at how non-Hollywood real prison life is. Frankly, all I knew about prison life was what I saw on television or at the movies. Not even close.
As I got closer to retiring from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP), it began to dawn on me that the security practices we used in the prison system were being implemented outside those walls. “Free worlders” is prison slang for the non-incarcerated who reside in the “free world.” In this article I am going to compare a number of practices used in federal prisons to those being used today in the “free world.”
You might find that our country may be one giant correctional institution.
Cameras & Movement Tracking
In federal prisons, cameras are everywhere. The reason, of course, is to help maintain security and keep track of prisoners. Inmates know that if they break any rules or policies, they can be readily identified if the event occurred in view of a camera. The cameras remind the inmates that they do not have any freedom or privacy, and that they live under total control.
Unfortunately, the “free world” is now subject to the widespread use of video surveillance and movement tracking. This goes beyond cameras, which have become virtually ubiquitous now. The federal government has been handing out grants to create sophisticated surveillance grids in cities across the country.
These surveillance grids frequently include license plate readers – some with the ability to log 1,200 license plates per hour, logging timestamps and location data – giving the government a way to track people and analyze their movement patterns. Some cities post license plate readers to log every single vehicle that enters or leaves its boundaries. Many cities have turned their police cars into roving data collectors by outfitting them with mobile license plate scanners. A man from California discovered that he had been photographed 112 times over the course of a couple years – from just one police cruiser mounted with a license plate scanner! The local databases of movement data are integrated with the federal government through its fusion centers located all over the country.
The government also has the ability to use facial-recognition software in conjunction with its surveillance grid to instantly identify individuals by comparing their photograph to biometric databases created using BMV photographs. Facial recognition cameras can be set up to accurately identify a person against a database of millions of images in less than one second. The government can then potentially log their locations and using the data for any purpose it wants.
As the usage of these technologies grows, the “authorities” will practically know where you are at any time. The British have the greatest level of electronic surveillance in the world. Their movements are said to be recorded 3,000 times a week. The United States is not that far behind. In some ways, with the numerous NSA spying programs, the USA leads the world in destroying personal privacy. Today’s youngest generation will grow up never knowing what privacy is.
The federal prison inmate drug abuse monitoring program has been going on for decades since the capability was invented. At any time, a prisoner can be tested for intoxicants using urine, sweat, saliva, and hair samples taken by force. After years of perfecting the process on inmates, it was introduced to the American public.
On September 15, 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12564, establishing the goal of a Drug-Free Federal Workplace. Additionally, in 2010, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) finalized a new rule that allows federal agencies to use sweat, saliva and hair in federal drug testing programs that only tested urine. Since then, many private businesses and corporations had to begin testing their employees in order to keep or obtain federal contracts. Under federal guidelines for employee testing, if a person takes medicine that was not prescribed to him, he has committed a federal drug abuse offense and may be fired. Children in public schools are also subjected to involuntary random drug testing.
The inmates were the guinea pigs for a program now being regularly employed on Americans. This process conditions Americans to be accustomed to regularly submitting bodily fluid samples to the government, lessening their resistance to data collection and intrusion in other areas.
Metal Detection & Weapon Confiscation
In prison, detection and confiscation of weapons is a necessity. Prisoners cannot be allowed the freedom to possess objects that could potentially be used to cause harm to others. The security of the facility relies on the prisoners remaining disarmed.
With that said, not even prisons can be guaranteed to be weapon free. Inmates are clever, and can fashion any piece of metal into a makeshift weapon. They are also prolific smugglers. To mitigate this risk, prisoners and visitors are put through metal detector checkpoints to keep them disarmed. Any metallic contraband is confiscated.
Treating prisoners this way is one thing. In a prison setting, security trumps liberty. The liberties of the inmates have been curtailed through due process on an individual basis. But these prison tactics have crept out into the “free world.” Now, virtually all government buildings use metal detectors to screen incoming visitors and even their own personnel. This establishes a climate of fear of weapons and a false sense of security among those within such “weapon free zones.” If a prison can’t proclaim to be weapon free, how can any place outside of prison make such arrogant and naive claims?