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The Israel prison service is developing new very advanced systems to monitor individual inmates. The service is also in charge of 4500 security prisoners that create special problems. The first such system is a unique technology for preventing inmate suicide.
Each year, hundreds of Israeli prison inmates attempt to take their own lives. To combat this phenomenon, the Israel Prison Service is in the midst of forming new methods to prevent suicide attempts among inmates, despite the fact that the suicide rate among inmates in Israel is relatively low.
In November 2009, then Prison Services Commissioner, Benny Kaniak, published a document entitled “Seven Steps – a Program for the Prevention of Suicide among Inmates.” The program contains, among other things, a plan to construct 230 specially-designed cells for inmates who are suicide risks, as part of a multi-year plan, set to be completed by 2014.
However, preventing suicides is no simple matter; and even the definition of “suicidal tendencies” is not so clear. “The prediction of suicide is problematic,” explains Lieutenant Colonel Roni Borochov, head of the Israel Prison Service’s Weapons Development Branch. “It’s possible that an inmate who was diagnosed as being at risk for committing suicide, will not behave that way down the line; while another inmate, whose potential for suicidal tendencies wasn’t discovered, will be the one to attempt it.”
About 1,200 inmates are defined as “inmates under supervision,” and 230 of them are diagnosed as being at high risk for committing suicide. As a result, it is necessary to come up with a technological solution for suicide – a smart device that can alert prison staff to a suicide attempt, within a reasonable time span that allows him to be saved.
Developing the System
The staff at the Weapons Development Branch, which is responsible for the development of new technologies for the Israel Prison Service, addressed the issue. In the first stage, according to Borochov, work meetings were conducted with medical authorities, such as Professor Yehuda Hiss, former head of Forensic Medicine at Israel’s forensic institute at Abu Kabir; mainly to understand the physiological process that a person who is about to commit suicide undergoes.
“Professor Hiss defined a number of physiological parameters that are affected by suicidal tendencies, such as: the regularity of heart beats, the inmate’s movements, and increases in pulse, blood pressure, blood oxygen, stress, excitement and more,” says Borochov. “Hiss claimed that in situations like asphyxiation, for example, there are ‘six golden minutes’ during which the inmate can still be rescued. In cases of wrist slashing, there is even a little more time. And with that, we set out.”
The team published a request for information (RFI) from international firms dealing with technological development, in order to locate technologies that can identify crisis situations or various types of suicide attempts, and help prevent them. The demand was for a product that could automatically, accurately and immediately detect and recognize suicide attempts, with the appropriate response time for saving a life and minimizing injury.
Furthermore, the team also required the product to be resistant to tampering, so the inmate cannot neutralize or disrupt the system. The Israeli company SPO Medical was the one to meet the challenge. The company specializes in developing technology for devices that monitor vital signs in babies (Baby Sense) and for thermometers measuring blood oxygen levels. The system, which was developed as part of the collaborative efforts between the Israel Prison Service and SPO Medical, was named “Bracelet for Life,” a name which expresses, more than anything, the Israel Prison Service’s commitment to preserving inmates’ lives and health, and to protect them, at times even from themselves.
Resistance to Every Condition
What is the “Bracelet for Life?” The system is comprised of a bracelet-shaped end receiver, which is worn on the inmate’s ankle, and regularly monitors physiological shifts. It is connected by wireless communication to the division log and the prison control center, and automatically and immediately alerts prison staff to a suicide attempt.
“During a suicide attempt, the system will alert the control center and specify the location and the identity of the suicidal inmate, as well as other aspects. The unit is operated by batteries, and includes an alert for when the battery is running low,” explains Borochov.
According to Borochov, “Bracelet for Life” is suitable for all types of inmates, resistant to all environmental conditions, and provides solutions to all types of suicide attempts (hanging, wrist slitting, poisoning, jumping from heights and more). It does not require inmate cooperation, and is tamper proof. Borochov says there is no system like it in the world.
Inmates with the Bracelet
Over the past few months, 15 inmates under supervision at the Nitsan prison have been wearing the “Bracelet for Life” on their ankle. At the moment, while the initiative is still in the trial run stage, only one tamper-proof bracelet is being used. “In order to put any concern to rest,” says Borochov, “even the prison guards volunteered to walk around with the bracelet for the first week. The 15 inmates who are wearing the bracelets are also doing it voluntarily, and each of them signed a consent form, agreeing to participate in the device’s trial run.”
It was not long before other inmates began asking for the bracelet, after one of the inmates suffered an epileptic seizure and was immediately treated due to the bracelet’s alert. “We are at a point where the inmates are really anxious and concerned about their bracelets. Whenever the battery needs to be recharged, once a week, they wait with unbelievable patience and watch carefully to make sure the bracelet is returned to them and isn’t, God forbid, given to someone else; not even by mistake,” he reports.
It must be stressed that the bracelet does not limit the inmate’s movement. The dozens of detectors, scattered throughout the cells and public areas of the prison, constantly transmit to the division log and the prison control center. During the trial run stage, the system’s abilities were greatly improved: regulations were formed and work rules were established to ensure continuous operation.
“We are about to launch the second stage of the system’s implementation, which will include water and tamper-proof bracelets. Our future development is aimed at a device that will monitor movement, energy and calorie levels, convulsions, excitement and stress, blood-oxygen levels, blood-alcohol levels, and more,” says Borochov.
The staff of the Weapons Development Branch has already presented the system at two international conferences, and there are already those who are interested in purchasing it abroad.
“Innovation Exchange” a periodical of the Ministry of Public Security describing innovations and implementations in maintaining public security, law enforcement, crime prevention and corrections.