Disruptive Technology In Corrections & Public Safety

Disruptive technologies may impact critical areas of government, ranging from public safety and health to education and transportation. In this session, Dan Stewart explored how state governments can seize the opportunity and harness these innovations to become more efficient and responsive to citizens.

Cyber Threats in Real-time

Cyber-security risks are just one part of digital disruption, which has the potential to overturn incumbents and reshape markets faster, perhaps, than any force in history, Mr. Stewart observed. Despite the risks inherent in a digital world, we live in it and have to be prepared to manage its challenges and take advantage of its opportunities, Mr. Stewart said.

Digital Disruption: Essentially Positive

A Senior Advisor at the Global Center for Digital Business Transformation (DBT Center), Mr. Stewart reported a recent DBT survey examining industries’ potential for digital disruption and business’s readiness to adapt. The survey found that despite the existential threats to their own businesses, respondents viewed digital disruptions in a very positive way, overall, showing that unmet needs can be addressed with digital solutions. While clearly not without its downsides, digital disruptions have been beneficial in many ways. Consumers, for example, are getting more value for less cost. Institutions are finding ways to make healthcare, energy, and education more affordable and effective. Executives in the survey said the effects of disruption are, by and large, positive: 75% indicated that digital disruption is a form of progress—it is moving us in the right direction; nearly as many say the customer ultimately benefits; and two-thirds believe the individual is empowered—not merely as a consumer, but as a human being.

Digital Disruptions in Corrections

Looking to the corrections sector, Mr. Stewart, a former Commissioner for Corrections in New York State, considered the disruptive technologies’ impacts on the 5,000+ local, county, state and Federal correctional facilities in the US.

In the past, the driving force for industry has been revenue-sharing programs between correctional agencies and private sector niche service providers. For example, phone service providers would install phones for free and benefit from revenue-sharing on every call. This 50/50 or 80/20 deal netted $1.5 million in revenue to the counties and saved them the infrastructure costs of implementing phone systems for inmates. Any service issues were the problem of the providers.

But the analog systems currently installed are archaic, as telephony technology has evolved dramatically. Older ISDN service is expensive, while Internet-protocol (IP) telephony is free and offers features such as video conferencing. Correction agencies are demanding more of a value bundle and issuing competitive Requests For Proposals (RFPs) to address multi-use needs. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) determined that the cost for inmate calls was too high, so they mandated a reduced rate for calls and reduced profit-sharing for service providers.

This loss of revenue was a serious disruption for service providers, who tried to bypass new FCC rules by offering video calls and using IP phones and tablets as a way to preserve a higher profit margin. These $20 video calls link inmates from their cells to their families’ home phones. One positive outcome of the disruption caused by adopting video calls is that less contraband enters the prison system. On the otherhand, family visits, which are associated with the best chance of inmate rehabilitation, are fewer.

The Delaware Solution

Delaware is the first state corrections system in the nation to retain 100% of revenues by implementing and managing its own IP-telephone system. The state made the investment in infrastructure to offer wrap-around family visitation services that are designed to enhance family reunion and rehabilitation. Services include audio and video conferencing with libraries, churches, and community centers serving as host sites for families, thereby providing access to the system even for those families without computers.

The Delaware agencies keep 100% of the FCC-allowed rates and use the proceeds to benefit the entire corrections mission as well as the whole community. Proceeds are used to pay off system investments, and new rates are calculated based on the return on investment and operational viability of the system.

Benefits to the Delaware Corrections Mission

The power of disruptive technology is evident in this system, which provides access to the population pre-release for all re-entry service providers. Family re-unification is the optimal route to rehabilitation, and the advanced communications system helps families stay connected. Inmates also have access to telehealth and telepsychiatry services, and to educational benefits by connecting to online programs from state colleges, community colleges, and local K-12 school districts.

Agencies such as parole and probation and the courts also gain better access to the inmate population through the new system. Today, recruitment by extremist groups has moved into the county jails, where inmates have a quick turn-around time, often fewer than 30 days. By monitoring video calls, police agencies can identify which inmates are running drug operations from jail and/or what extremist groups are recruiting in the jails.

Disruptive Technology in Public Safety

State and local policing agencies generally work in silos with significant barriers to communications and information sharing, which hampers their ability to protect and serve, Mr. Stewart noted. Industry leaders dominate the public safety communications marketplace, aging systems have not been upgraded, and economic downturns since 2008 have caused budget constraints at both the state and local levels that have slowed uptake of NextGen 911.

Connecting the silos is desirable in most cases. But in many states, state and local police agencies are still blind to each other – parochial loyalties are alive and well, Mr. Stewart reminded the Forum. However, all law-enforcement entities have, in common, a desire for some communication channel that is private, not recorded, and not available to the public.

Public opinion sometimes raises barriers to implementing disruptive technology, Mr. Stewart pointed out. For example, police departments have used Department of Homeland Security’s Grants and Asset Seizure Funds to acquire advanced technologies such as body-worn cameras and armor. But social and legislative responses have characterized these technologies as “suspect items,” creating a so-called militarization of policing agencies. Thus, societal pressures on policing can limit adoption of disruptive technologies.

Body-Worn Cameras

Body-worn cameras (BWCs) seem like a good technology to protect both police and the public. The cameras are cheap and easy to buy. The problem is data storage, which is costly and raises many legal privacy issues. Policies and procedures governing these data are non-existent or brand new and don’t always meet state laws due to lack of legal precedent and guidance. Sen. Thomas Alexander (SC) noted that South Carolina is the first state to pass legislation providing policies and procedures for how long, how much, and where to store BWC video data.

Keeping Government Up-to-Date with Technology

When public safety and government agencies buy technical items without consulting one another, they may get niche products that meet today’s needs but are not inter-operable with other systems. Currently, standards-based purchasing for inter-operability is essential. For some entities, new high-tech services may be too expensive. States are consolidating their Information technology (IT) departments and important technology investment decisions are being deferred to “line of business” leaders.

These changes are promoting collaboration at the state level. Chiefs of police and sheriffs in 45 states have formed an association to purchase cloud-based Data Center services jointly. The challenge with cloud-based services is that rules of evidence for US Courts require that evidence be held on US soil by a company staffed only with US citizens, or the chain of evidence is considered broken and is not admissible in court. Any US state or local agency that wants to access the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) database through a cloud-based solution is required to use a cloud provider that adheres to the CJIS’s Security Policy. Microsoft Azure is the only major cloud provider that is CJIS-compliant.

Leaders of the states’ sheriffs’ and police chiefs’ associations are driving forward the concept of a Unified Communication and Collaboration Service. By sharing this service, local entities do not have to make expensive, cost-prohibitive infrastructure investments. All agencies can participate regardless of budgetary constraints. The integrated system is standards-based and provides better training, education, compliance to state rules, while meeting the diverse needs of local, state and federal partners.

Unified Communication and Collaboration as a Service


The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) is an independent authority within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) that is designed to provide emergency responders with the first nationwide, high-speed, broadband network dedicated to public safety. States play a key role in ensuring that the network meets the needs of local first responders. To implement this goal, the State Local Implementation Grant Program (SLIGP) was established to support states as they prepare for the network’s launch.


Cyber-security is the fastest-growing sector in IT. Cyber-attacks are major threats to agencies and public assets. Mr. Stewart cited instances where hackers were able to unlock all the cells in one jail at the same time. Other hackers have stolen US and state government data and held the information for ransom. As hackers mount daily attacks to breach firewalls, government entities must protect the private information of state employees and constituents that resides in health, Medicaid, tax, and other records. “The public sector cannot afford to delay. Don’t wait till its too late,” Mr. Stewart advised the Forum.


Sen. David Long (IN): In Indiana, we built our own state-wide, data-sharing system for the courts. Could we obtain that service from a cloud-based provider for less cost?

Mr. Stewart: You could publish a Request for Information (RFI) to obtain cost estimates. Specify that you want a solution that is inter-operable. You need to know that your data are secure, properly stored, and CJIS-compliant. A key advantage of a cloud-based service is that if anyone in the cloud gets hacked, every participant gets upgraded to protect against that threat.

Sen. Hugh Leatherman (SC): In South Carolina, computers holding the data for 3.5 million people and more than 1 million businesses were hacked into and their data stolen. Within hours, the FBI identified a hacker in Eastern Russia as the culprit. For $1000, the hacker would return the information. The ransom money goes through the Secret Service in Washington, DC. We can never be sure we got all the data back.

Sen. Tom Apodaca (NC): The most frequently requested economic development grant in our state is for developing data centers.

Mr. Stewart: Digital technologies are the economic development engine of the future, and they are creating a growing need for data collection, storage, and processing facilities. People and technology are moving forward, with or without their legislative leaders. They are going to be coming to you for money. It is important to know which disruptive technologies will benefit your state and your constituents, as well as how to contain the potential risks, so that the state can make optimal economic development investments in emerging technologies.

Speaker Biographies

Dan Stewart

As an advocate for Connected Justice Solutions at Cisco, Daniel Stewart is dedicated to helping the Criminal Justice community improve the use of technology with clear returns on investments and increased safety and security.

Prior to joining Cisco, Stewart’s efforts as Chairman and Commissioner of the New York State Commission of Correction led to one of the widest growing video integration projects in the country. By year-end 2011, over 50% of New York State’s County Jails were operating on video platform technology enhancements for inmate services.

Stewart led the regulatory oversight agency of the New York State Correction System including state prison facilities, county jail facilities, New York City Department of Correction (Riker’s Island), secure juvenile facilities and police department lockups. Stewart served three terms as Mayor to the City of Plattsburgh, New York, where he helped achieve the national ranking of #1 Small City in the United States by Site Selection Magazine for small city development opportunities. He was a team member in the re-use of the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base upon its closure, widely recognized as the best re-use example of a military facility asset in the United States.

Stewart served his country as a Sergeant in the United States Air Force as a member of the Strategic Air Command. He was awarded achievement medals for professional service and actions taken during an operational situation, good conduct, and outstanding unit ribbon while on active duty.

Stewart’s time in local and state government service gives him a keen knowledge and understanding of the many implications and challenges involved in the decision making process for projects at the local and state government levels.

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Dan Stewart

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Dan Stewart

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