In a bid to curtail inmate suicides, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has deployed an electronic tracking system that prison guards must use to carry out welfare checks at 33 institutions.

The Inmate Welfare Check System (IWCS) is designed to more accurately record the time and location of all welfare checks of inmates housed in the Administrative Segregation Unit.

"CDCR will be able to capture accurate, real-time data when conducting welfare checks of inmates, Joe Panora, the director of Enterprise Information Services wrote in an Oct. 15 CDCR blog post.

The system will allow the department to "increase our efficiency and overall effectiveness providing sound reportable data, while adhering to court mandates and reducing the percentage of inmate suicide attempts," Panora added.

Inmates in the ASU must be checked on at least three times an hour, at intervals not to exceed 30 minutes during the first three weeks.

The new system is composed of three parts: small devices called ibuttons installed at the front of each cell with a unique digital address; a Guard One Rounds Tracker "pipe," which reads the ibutton to record the time and location of the check; and a leather wallet that contains 12 ibuttons intended to correspond to an inmate’s current activity.

The system is simple to use. To record the welfare check, a guard touches the pipe to the ibutton on the front of the cell and then touches the pipe to the ibutton in the leather wallet to record an inmate’s activity.

At the end of each shift, an officer inserts the pipe into the Internet Protocol Downloader to securely transfer all of the time, location and activity data across LAN/WAN.

"It is through this collaborative effort by both the Division of Adult Institutions and Enterprise Information Systems that we were able to complete this endeavor," said Capt. Joe Stein from the Office of Policy Standardization in Division of Adult Institutions in a CDCR blog post.

CDCR has come under criticism regarding its rate of inmate suicides in the past several years. In 2012, the suicide rate at state prisons was 23.72 per 100,000 inmates, much higher than the national average of 16 per 100,000. It represented an increase from the 2011 rate of 21.01 per 100,000, according to a special master’s expert report mandated by a federal district court.

The report, which reviewed 15 cases, found that rigor mortis had begun in three of the cases, indicating that at least two to four hours passed between the inmates death and the discovery of their bodies. Most suicides in the prison occurred by hanging, and half of the reviewed cases occurred in secured housing units.