Rhode Island Criminal Defense and DUI Lawyer James E. Smith located this interesting article from the Projo.
By John Hill
Journal Staff Writer
CRANSTON — Many a song has warned about believing someone’s lying eyes, but corrections officials say they have a new technology that uses traits in the human eyeball to verify the identities of prisoners in their facilities.
Corrections Director A. T. Wall said by analyzing the patterns in the irises of prisoners’ eyes, prison officials now have an extra layer of verification to use when they check a new inmate in or let an old one go. The process can take a minute or less, he said, and because it only involves taking a picture, it’s faster and less invasive than fingerprinting or DNA analysis.
“This is beyond what I ever expected to see in my tenure here,” said Capt. Fred Haibon, who with Capt. Kathy Lyons, runs the iris-identification station at the Adult Correctional Institutions’ Travisono Intake Service Center.
Haibon said, in Rhode Island, the system is used for prisoners entering the intake center and those leaving custody.
An iris scan makes it harder for inmates to use the ruse that Nayquan J. Gadson did on July 27 when he used a damaged photo identification of a similar-looking inmate who was set to be released on bail to pose as that inmate and get out of the intake center.
Now, Wall said, an iris scan is done before such releases and would catch someone trying to repeat that strategy.
“That was the last time Nayquan Gadson can pull that kind of stunt,” Wall said.
The intake center is essentially the state’s jail, holding prisoners from across Rhode Island who are awaiting court appearances or have been sentenced but not yet assigned to one of the state’s prisons. Its capacity is about 1,110, but with the median inmate stay at about four days, more than 16,000 inmates pass through it in a year.
Sean G. Mullin, president and chief executive officer of Bi² Technologies of Plymouth, Mass., the company providing the equipment for the program, said the hardware for the system is rather simple. It was paid for with a $40,000 federal grant, he said. Scanners have been installed at the intake center and seven prisons that make up the ACI.
Haibon and Lyons work at an L-shaped desk with a fat camera connected to the desk by a jointed metal arm that holds the camera at eye level and lets it move up, down, right or left.
The inmate sits in front of the camera and it asks, in lilting, feminine computer voice, for him to move closer or farther away. It focuses on the eyes and takes a picture of them. The system then analyzes the patterns in the irises — no two, even on the same face, are the same, Mullin said — and checks them against a database of about 400,000 scans. Mullin said that increases daily as other agencies complete more scans. The results come up on a computer screen facing away from the inmate.
The iris is the part of the eye that covers the lens and expands and contracts to adjust the amount of light that enters the eye. By analyzing about 250 of more than 400 distinctive characteristics on a human iris, the system comes up with a unique code for that eye.
“In the colored tissue surrounding the pupil, the iris is made up of unique characteristics, ridges, crypts, freckles and furrows that are instrumental in composing the code,” wrote E. Robert Bertolli, an optometrist and adjunct instructor at the Connecticut Police Training Academy, in the fall 2010 issue of Inside Homeland Security magazine.
Mullin said the patterns are set by the time we are a year old and never change.
Haibon said the only blips the ACI staff have noticed are that it takes a few seconds longer for very light blue eyes. With intoxicated inmates, whose pupils are extremely dilated and leave less of the iris visible, the scan is done when the pupils return to normal.
Bertolli’s article noted a gruesome advantage for iris-based identification security systems over fingerprints. In fingerprint-activated systems, a person’s severed finger could be used to gain entry. But iris-based systems are triggered by the constriction and dilation of the iris, he wrote, and a dead eye won’t react to light.