In Nevada, extreme staffing shortages and pandemic restrictions left inmates without adequate access to food, cleaning supplies, or proper hygiene, Politico reports. To help, leaders at the Nevada Department of Corrections moved ahead with a plan to outsource many duties performed by correctional officers by deploying drones to patrol the state’s prisons and fitting the people serving time with surveillance bracelets. The decision helps deal with a situation prison officials across the U.S. face as vacancy rates reach record highs. In Nevada, prison officials imagine a security system with a central command center where one person can monitor live video feeds and the decibel levels inside housing units and outdoor areas at facilities throughout the state. This all-seeing staff member can then dispatch what precious few officers are available to an emergency situation. In the event of an escape, drones could be utilized, along with tracking bracelets. The platform — called “Overwatch” — would allow prisons to “fill in the blanks where we don’t have enough staff,” Nevada Department of Corrections Director Charles Daniels told state lawmakers. Officials pursued the idea after traveling to a police department in Arizona that’s using the same approach on a smaller scale.
Corrections officials indicated they were already moving forward with purchasing some equipment, but could not provide any cost estimates. That lack of information concerns lawmakers, who will need to sign off on any budget increases requested by Daniels’ agency. “It makes sense to look at ways in which technology innovations could help address this,” said Marc Levin of the Council on Criminal Justice. "But I don’t think it’s a panacea.” Still, prison leaders stressed that the current staffing situation is untenable and a new approach is needed. For Jodi Hocking, founder of Nevada criminal justice nonprofit Return Strong, the solution to the labor problem is to let people out of prison. Between 1983 to 2015, the prison custody population in Nevada increased by 329 percent, according to the Vera Institute of Justice. Nevada also has a large geriatric prison population: More than 16 percent of those incarcerated are 55 years and older. “The answer in Nevada is decarceration,” Hocking said. “The answer is not drones and bracelets.”