The Multiple Surveillance Activities Undertaken By Correctional Facilities

  • Words 1617
  • Pages 4
Download PDF

This text will explore the multiple surveillance activities undertaken by correctional facilities, along with how panopticism theory evolved and how it is applied in prisons systems. Also touching on the benefits and risks of using surveillance equipment and looking into studies on exactly how panoptic prison systems really are.

The use of technology in prisons has significantly changed the way that correctional service officers conduct their duties. The technology has been designed to improve security, the level of control that officers have in their surroundings and the level of supervision that is needed over prisoners (Allard, 2006). Current surveillance techniques mimic those of English philosopher and social theorist, Jeremy Bentham, who designed and created the panopticon (Mason, 2019). The concept of his design was to ensure that all prisoners within an institution could be observed by a single security guard, even though it would be nearly impossible for this to occur. The inmates would not be able to know when or whether they were being watched, which would therefore motivate them to act in a way as though they were being watched at all times (Mason, 2019).

Click to get a unique essay

Our writers can write you a new plagiarism-free essay on any topic

Due to a dramatic increase in the number of escapes and the importing of illegal contraband (drugs, alcohol, weapons, phones) into correctional facilities, correctional services are always finding new ways to improve their surveillance techniques. Some of the traditional surveillance techniques used within prisons include CCTV, prison guards, vehicle-based surveillance, metal detectors, drug testing, health monitoring, data files, checkpoints, mail surveillance, and telephone monitoring. (Allard, 2006) However, a new surveillance system is now being used, the 360 Thermal System, this new technology has 24/7 rotating sensors to show 360-degree images which allows the detection and tracking of humans in real-time (HGH, n.d.). The sensor can detect a human up to several kilometres away, in complete darkness and severe weather conditions, including heat, snow, clouds, and dusty weather conditions (HGH, n.d.). Although there are great benefits with video surveillance, there can also be risks involved, they include; Tampering, inmates may attempt to tamper with the facility’s surveillance equipment. Tamper-resistant equipment can be used to tackle this issue; however, it is always possible that cameras can be damaged and potentially lose signal. Over-reliance is another risk, correctional facilities should not completely rely on surveillance equipment, they should only use it as part of a larger security system that includes appropriate staffing of guards. Privacy is another issue that can arise with surveillance, as some facilities consider it necessary to use video surveillance to monitor individual cells, others may consider this a complete breach of the privacy that inmates have left. (HGH, n.d.)

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham in 1791 introduced the panopticon building as a whole new system of discipline (Boyne, 2010). This architectural design exposed a large number of cells surrounding and facing towards a dark, central tower with Venetian blinds used so the guards inside were not visible. Individuals in these cells were uncertain if they were being watched, however, they were conscious of the possibility, which therefore made them alter their behaviour accordingly (Mason, 2019).

Bentham used this innovation to not only guarantee an asymmetrical gaze but to use the uncertainty of the prisoners as a form of social control (Beckam, 2017). The panopticon has since become a social metaphor, with Michel Foucault expanding on this to everyday life and calling it panopticism (Boyne, 2010). He uses this to explain how we alter our behaviour because we have internalised this feeling of being watched. Foucault claimed that by the mid-nineteenth century there was a corrective change in France, from physical punishment to disciplined imprisonment, this focused more so on the ‘transformation of the soul’ rather than the physical torture of the body, with the potential for individuals to start policing themselves (Boyne, 2010). Foucault argues that the use of disciplinary power has extended throughout society, not only do prisons use disciplinary power (surveillance), it is also used to keep the general public under control (Beckam, 2017). Panopticism works by there being a potential of someone watching you, so you then start to become aware that you are possibly being watched and you act rationally to change your behaviour to avoid punishment. Not only do you now engage in self-surveillance, but you may start to internalise the social norms, the uncertainty then leads you to start policing your own behaviour.

Surveillance is everywhere in this generation and everyone is exposed to it. A clear example is a use of CCTV in many public areas and the facial recognition programs within CCTV. As this is such a common practice in today’s society, people will generally obey the rules as they are constantly aware that they are being watched so they will therefore regulate their behaviour accordingly. Surveillance technologies are an important variable in crime detection and prevention. A study conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology interviewed 899 police detainees about their views and personal experiences with video surveillance through an addition to the Drug Use Monitoring in Australia program (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2003). The detainees regarded video surveillance as an effective tool for minimizing crime, however, detainees also explained a variety of strategies on how to avoid surveillance cameras, simple things such as covering faces with hoodies, or turning their backs at the visible cameras (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2003).

Alongside keeping social order, there are many benefits of using surveillance equipment in prisons. It can improve visual coverage of prison, as many correctional facilities are quite large, and consist of many different areas that all require secure monitoring. As prison guards can not be watching all areas of the prison at once, surveillance technology ensures that continuous visual footage of the whole facility is occurring. It is also necessary to monitor not only inmates but for prison guards to be monitored if they act out of line, footage can then be used for investigations and can help to prevent further misconduct.

A previous study looked into the effects of CCTV and whether it improved the level of safeness prisoners felt whilst in a correctional facility, and whether it would reduce any offending behaviour such as assaults on other prisoners or guards (Allard, 2006). This study compared the level of safety felt by the prisoners and self-reported victimisation and the offending behaviour that occurred in cells with CCTV and with cells that did not have CCTV. The findings from this study suggested that CCTV had no effect on how safe the prisoners felt, however, that CCTV may assist in reducing assault (Allard, 2006).

It is clear that panopticism is present within prisons, as some inmates may alter their behaviour as they are aware that they are being watched, however, this has not necessarily been the case all the time. In 2018, violence within a Queensland prison reached a new high with 2997 attacks in 2017 and 2018 (Wordsworth, 2018). This is a 131 percent increase in assaults since 2013 and 2014, this data was revealed from the analysis of Custodial Incident Reports (Matt Wordsworth, 2018).

The key component of panopticism is the internalising of the disciplinary gaze (Allen, 2013). One may expect that due to the high levels of surveillance within prisons, prisoners may fall subject to ‘the Gaze’ theory, which can be described as the anxious state of mind that occurs when you are aware that one can be seen or watched at any given moment (Allen, 2013). Although this effect may be subconsciously present, other varying factors may arise to the forefront of inmate’s minds, such as the overcrowding they are subjected to. Many prisons are cramming high numbers of inmates into cells, which is contributing to the rise of violent assaults, as their personal space is being limited (Wortley, 2002). Although prisons may have heavy surveillance, they are not entirely panoptic as we would expect to see offending rates to be lower if they were to be.

Prisons all over the country are experiencing significant rates of incarceration, costing taxpayers money and making it increasingly difficult for correctional facilities to meet the basic needs of inmates, such as; healthcare, food, and appropriate accommodation (Wortley, 2002). Overcrowding also affects the chances of rehabilitating inmates and putting them through educational programs. It is also highly associated with substantial rates of violence and mental health issues (Wortley, 2002).

It is clear that panopticism is relevant within prison systems, inmates are monitored almost 24/7 with surveillance cameras on them from all angles. Inmates are aware that they can be watched at any given moment, and some may choose to act accordingly because of that reason. However, there are many contributing factors that minimise the panoptic effect, such as the overcrowding of prisons, this is an issue that is out of the hands of the inmates and may cause them great frustration therefore the urge to act out in aggression may overtake the caution to behave. It is clear that since the over-crowding of prisons has occurred, the violent assault rate within prisons has also risen, cancelling out the panoptic effect.


  1. Allard. 2006. The purpose of CCTV in prison. Griffith University, pp.1-20.
  2. Allen, A. (2013). Foucault, disciplinary power and the dangerous remainder. [online] Social theory applied. Available at: [Accessed 5 Nov. 2019].
  3. Australian Institue of Criminology (2003). Electronic monitoring in the criminal justice system. Australian Government, pp.1-2.
  4. Beckam, C. (2017). Ethics explainer: The panopticon. The ethics centre. Pp. 1
  5. Boyne, R. (2010). Post-panopticism. Economy and Society, 29(2), pp.1-3.
  6. Wortley, R. (2002). Crime prevention in correctional institutions. Situational prison control, pp.3-10.
  7. HGH (n.d.). Prison surveillance. [online] HGH. Available at: [Accessed 3 Nov. 2019].
  8. Mason, M. (2019). Foucault and his panopticon. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Nov. 2019].
  9. Matt Wordsworth (2018). Prisoner violence at record levels, cell ‘double ups’ a major contributor, commissioner admits. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Nov. 2019].


We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you board with our cookie policy.