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Prison access control gets smart

The Department of Correctional Services says its new smart ID biometric system will provide complete access security control for officials.

Read time 3min 40sec
The smart ID cards contain individualised access permission, allowing officials to enter only the designated areas where they work.
The smart ID cards contain individualised access permission, allowing officials to enter only the designated areas where they work.

The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) says its new smart ID cards, to be issued to staff, will allow complete access management, enabling it to determine, at any given time, which officials are where.

The department this week launched the new smart ID card for all DCS staff, in an effort to boost security in SA's correctional centres.

According to DCS chief deputy commissioner Teboho Mokoena, the ID cards were designed specifically with access security in mind. "At any point, at any time, we want to be able to determine who is where," he says.

He explains that each card's access permission is individualised, meaning an official will only be able to enter the designated areas where he or she is required to work. "Officials won't be able to move around in all areas as they previously were," he says. "By managing access in this way, we can look on the system at any time and know exactly which officials are where in the centres based on the access reports."

The new smart card is a significant security improvement from the previous simple laminated ID card, says Mokoena. "The card will have the official's ID details printed on as with the previous cards, but is now linked to a biometric system that contains all the biographical information [of the DCS officials]." He explains each card has a unique card number and bar code on the back, as well as watermarks that make it more difficult to replicate.

All correctional centres and DCS offices will be fitted with the necessary equipment to allow staff to either scan their fingerprints or the card bar code when entering or exiting the facilities.

Mokoena says continuous advancement in technology prompted the department to look at ways to improve the security in its facilities. "As technology evolves and we benchmark with sister departments both nationally and internationally, we realised there is always room for improvement."

When asked whether the DCS has had identity theft issues in the past, he says he can't recall a specific incident where a correctional officer was impersonated and unlawful access was gained. "But that doesn't mean we have to wait for that to happen," says Mokoena.

Rollout by March

Mokoena says a total of 41 911 cards will be issued, and the department hopes to complete the project by the end of the financial year.

Correctional services minister Sibusiso Ndebele says, as SA marks a break with identity documents that were prone to identity theft, the DCS is following suit.
Correctional services minister Sibusiso Ndebele says, as SA marks a break with identity documents that were prone to identity theft, the DCS is following suit.

Rollout of the smart IDs started at the DCS head office this week, where 1 000 officials were issued with their cards. Correctional services minister Sibusiso Ndebele says, as SA marks a break with identity documents that were prone to identity theft, the DCS is following suit in issuing secure identification to its staff.

The department will now continue with the issuing of the cards in Gauteng, which is the biggest province in terms of DCS staff numbers, says Mokoena. "Thereafter, we will continue with Limpopo and North West."

The cards were sourced through the Government Printing Works, which will continue to assist the department with the capturing of officials' biographical information and printing of the cards. According to Mokoena, the preliminary budget for the project is R1.2 million, which excludes technicians' travelling costs and the printing of the cards.

While the DCS ID cards offer similar security features to the new national smart ID cards, Mokoena says he does not want to compare the cards, as they were designed with different purposes in mind.

According to Ndebele, the implementation of the ID cards will go a long way to minimise security breaches at correctional centres. "The cards, however, in and of themselves, will not guarantee security for anyone," he says. "It is the majority of our officials who detest crime and corruption, who will ensure that, through these cards, the department continues to improve its profile in its core business of safe custody and rehabilitation of offenders."

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