Australian prisoners chipped as part of a new RFID trial

Plans to integrate tags with CCTV

A new prison currently being built in Canberra is planning to trial an RFID tracking program for its inmate population, despite growing concerns it will infringe on inmates' civil rights.

The Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC), which opens in August 2008, will employ real-time prisoner tracking via an RFID chip worn around the wrist or ankle.

It will be the first prison in Australasia to use an RFID system at an estimated cost of $1.2 million.

A department spokesperson said the program will act as a pilot for other Australian prisons

Canberra-based ICT project manager at the prison, Andreas Wullen, said the program is designed to ease rehabilitation for inmates, which is why it is an open plan prison.

"The AMC is based on the philosophy of rehabilitation programs, education and having people in an environment that is not conducive to institutionalisation," he said.

"Both the philosophy of design as well as the variety of the population make it ideal for active RFID real-time prisoner tracking.

"It's been shown that RFID prisoner tracking is conducive to good behaviour because inmates know they are being watched."

The system will have a refresh rate of around two seconds, with a range that covers the entire prison. The chips will be worn by wardens as well as prisoners.

Wullen said the cost of the project, which is more than a million dollars, is a small price to pay if it delivers the desired results.

"If we were to stop just one offender from re-offending and getting a 10 year sentence, that would cover the cost of the system," he said.

In addition to tracking inmates, the system will make it easier to monitor them.

"We're looking at integrating the RFID system with the CCTV system so that when an alarm goes off, the cameras will point to that position," Wullen said.

"When an alarm is raised, about half a dozen of the closest custodial officers to the incident will be notified. If just one life is saved then I would think the system was a worthwhile investment."

And while the system may not prevent every act of violence, Wullen said it will help catch the perpetrators.

"Because of the integration with CCTV it's not going to happen undetected. And the CCTV footage will be admissible in court," he said.

"What we're looking at doing is at least making sure no-one is getting away with that sort of thing uncaught."

Wullen said there is also a number of security measures built in to the device to protect it from abuse.

"They have tamper alarms on them that will measure whether [the unit's] being tampered with," Wullen said.

"[The unit] also measures the body's capacitance, and it has a battery low alarm so we'll be notified before batteries need to be replaced."

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