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Case study – Video surveillance in prisons


This case study discusses how video surveillance can be effectively used in prisons.

Prison environments have very special video surveillance needs that must support the mission of the prison. Video surveillance must help safeguard prisoners, guards and staff and the security of the prison.

Prisons must be protected from self-harm, attacks or medical events. Guards and staff must be protected against prisoner incidents and health and safety incidents. The security of the prison involves protection against contraband (drugs, weapons and mobile phones) entering the prison (either through personal contacts or over a perimeter) as well as protection against prisoner breakouts. Prisons are a dynamic and challenging environment for video surveillance and are not well modelled by rules.

Key prison issues

Prison executives have to manage responsibilities to the following stakeholder groups:

great responsibility for the welfare of prisoners and prison staff, as well as to the community as a whole. Literally, lives are in their hands. Any critical problems will result in significant personal scrutiny, including coronial inquests or disciplinary panel hearings. At the same time, financial and budget constraints and manpower restrictions that mean that more work must be done with fewer resources.

Video surveillance is widely used in prisons but unfortunately most cameras are not monitored. Cameras end up being used in hindsight, to prepare evidence, after a critical event has occurred.

Even cameras that are monitored rely on the vigilance of the operator, who may have multiple concurrent responsibilities. Cameras that are rotated may not ever be seen even by an operator who is able to actively monitor their screens. This means that it is unlikely that a critical event will ever be detected.

When footage needs to be reviewed to find a single event, this is a very time-consuming activity.

A range of critical events occur in prison environments:

  • Fights – altercations between prisoners
  • Passing items between prisoners – these could include contraband such as mobile phones, weapons or drugs, or innocent items
  • Contraband hiding
  • Contraband being brought into the prison – methods to bring in contraband may be through visitor contacts or over the perimeter fence (for example, using drones)
  • Fires


What does iCetana do?

iCetana is AI-powered software that identifies anomalous events occurring in a network of cameras.




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