RFID + Trimble Nomad Handheld Computers: Bringing Corrections Management into the Next Century


Captain Jerry Negen, the Jail Administrator at the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office in Brainerd, Minn., has worked in the corrections industry for more than 33 years. He’s managed tens of thousands of inmates over his career, and after working in and managing the old Crow Wing Co. Jail for over 25 years, he headed up the design, construction, and operation of its new 280-bed, state of the art facility.

A primary objective for Negen and his transition team was to evaluate technologies that would increase his jail staff’s operational efficiency by capturing and communicating critical task information in real-time. Since the new jail would be holding three times more inmates than the old jail, Negen knew that capturing and sharing a wide range of data at the point of contact was crucial for his staff to be efficient.

Like many detention facilities, Crow Wing Co. Jail had been heavily dependent on manual, paper-based systems. Everything from routine security rounds and inmate observations (including requests and complaints), to headcounts, inmate movements, recreation and meal offerings, and medication passes were being managed by manual sheets and log books. Their handwritten information was then typed into a full set of notes and saved electronically for reference and potential legal needs.

New Jail Leverages RFID Technology

Negen and his transition team turned to the GUARDIAN® RFID Corrections System and Trimble® Nomad® mobile computers. GUARDIAN RFID offered a powerful, holistic approach to inmate management built exclusively around RFID. Negen knew that RFID could greatly accelerate time-to-completion and accuracy of operational tasks that mattered most to his staff:

  • Fully automating their inmate identification needs
  • Performing standing headcounts
  • Logging and tracking inmate movements
  • Capturing all security rounds, including cell checks (inmate monitoring) and security checks
  • Recording inmate program use and class participation

An important characteristic of GUARDIAN RFID was its use of the Trimble Nomad rugged handheld computer. The Crow Wing Co. Jail management required the flexibility to capture a wide range of data at the point of contact. GUARDIAN RFID, together with the Trimble Nomad, met and exceeded their core technical requirements:

  • Running Windows Mobile
  • Having the battery survive an 8-12 hour shift without a single charge
  • Surviving accidental drops onto a concrete floor
  • Having integrated Wi-Fi capability

How the Solution Works

The GUARDIAN RFID Corrections System uses tamper-resistant RFID wristbands and proprietary, non-hardwired RFID sensors that are used to “tag” individual cells, walls within every housing unit, direct supervision desks, out of cell locations, and more. Each RFID tag automatically identify inmates by name, booking number, and photo ID when wirelessly read by GUARDIAN Mobile software running on the Trimble Nomad handheld. Each Trimble Nomad handheld is equipped with an RFID reader card and highly rugged protective cap.

The touchscreen mobile software not only identifies each wireless read, but it also records observations, interactions, services provided, and movements about specific inmates at the point of contact. This data is stored in a local database on the Trimble Nomad handheld computer, and automatically synchronizes data via Wi-Fi. Crow Wing Co. IT deployed Cisco Aironet 1130 access points throughout the jail so that staff could automatically and wirelessly synchronize their Trimble Nomad handheld computers from multiple locations. Tasks such as inmate movements, cell checks and security checks, supply passes, headcounts, meals and recreation offerings, and more are immediately captured on the Trimble Nomad handheld and securely uploaded for communication and reporting purposes.

“We needed a handheld computer that could withstand a tough working environment,” said Negen. “The Nomad is completely durable and gives our users everything they need. Our staff works eight to 12 hour shifts. It was critical that they have a product that lasted a full shift. The Nomad does.”

As staff collects the data, jail supervisors routinely review operational activities throughout their shift, knowing they are accessing current data. An online Event Log in the Web application displays all time-stamped log entries.

Since implementation, Crow Wing Co. Jail has generated nearly 4 million system transactions annually; nearly 85% of this data originates from users with a Trimble Nomad handheld.

Trimble Nomad Outperforms the Competition

Codex Corp., the Minneapolis, Minn.-based public safety software company that develops the GUARDIAN RFID Corrections System, chose to standardize all of its deployments on the Trimble Nomad because of its speed, durability, and battery life. In head-to-head comparisons to competitive devices Trimble Nomad was rated faster and more reliable during field testing by existing GUARDIAN RFID users.

“The combination of GUARDIAN RFID and Trimble Nomad is extremely powerful. The Nomad meets and exceeds the most critical requirements for corrections leaders: durability, speed, battery life, and ease of use. The Trimble Nomad also holds up well in tough environments. We’ve heard nothing but positive reviews from Jerry and his staff,” said Ken Dalley Jr., President and Senior Quality Leader at Codex Corp.

Specific Benefits for Corrections

The new system not only increased employee efficiency, but also produced data that was more legally defensible, which minimized costs to combat inmates’ frivolous complaints and lawsuits. Negen estimates the jail has saved more than $500,000 in legal fees. Reduced paperwork and eliminating logbooks saved the Crow Wing Co. Sheriff’s Office an additional $10,000 per year.

After using the new GUARDIAN RFID platform with Trimble Nomad handhelds for a year, Crow Wing Co. Jail received a visit from the Minnesota Department of Corrections during its annual inspection. Negen demonstrated the new system and produced nearly 500 pages of detailed data that impressed state jail inspectors. Based on this as well as reviewing general operations, compliance and security performance, the jail was granted permission to fully open and passed its first inspection with the new GUARDIAN RFID system. Moreover, no new staff would be needed.

“If you had told me ten years ago that a solution like this would be available, I’d have said you were crazy,” Negen said. “The GUARDIAN RFID and Nomad duo have made our staff work faster and smarter, increased our operational efficiency, and helped us achieve real-time insight into our inmate management responsibilities.”