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Biometrics Basics

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2000
3 pages
This article discusses the current use of biometrics identification technologies in corrections systems in the United States and describes current work being done in this area by the U.S. Justice Department's National Institute of Justice (NIJ).
Biometric identification is based on the statistical measurement of physiological characteristics that are distinctive to each person, such as fingerprints; eye features; voice, handwriting, or facial characteristics; hand and facial geometry; and DNA. A NIJ-sponsored survey of correctional facilities found that few jails and prisons are using biometric identification systems. The few systems being used involve mostly eye scans, hand geometry, and fingerprints. Dr. Al Turner, a NIJ visiting scientist, advises that biometrics identification systems are rare in correctional facilities because they are still new, relatively unknown, and untried. He believes that the accuracy and reliability of biometrics technologies must mature before they will be widely implemented. Toward this end, NIJ is working with the Department of Defense's Counterdrug Technology Development Program on Facial Recognition 2000, a project that will assess various facial-recognition technologies. Technologies deemed feasible will be tested in a correctional facility in the identification of staff members. If a system proves successful, it will be used to monitor visitors. A second project, still in the planning stage, will test biometrics as a means of monitoring inmate movement. Criteria for an effective biometrics identification system are that it be user friendly, acceptable to the community, affordable, and accurate. This article briefly describes the characteristics and objectives of biometric identification systems currently being used by correctional systems.

Date Published: October 1, 2000