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.