Putting down a riot
How to quell a prison uprising: I played a prisoner and learned the hard way
Low tech. Most of the technology on display at the Mock Prison Riot is not particularly high tech. Sure, there are wall-climbing reconnaissance robots and futuristic "sound cannons," designed to sweep rioters into a corner or stun them with a debilitating blast of noise. But this isn't Star Wars; it's a trade show for corrections officials with limited budgets and real-world concerns. Still, finding the right new technology can be crucial, says Capt. Philip Rizzo, leader of the NYC team. "Inmates have a lot of time to think, and they're always coming up with new stuff," he says. "We have to work hard to keep up and keep ahead." Michael Budge, warden of the Nevada State Prison in Carson City, is hoping to find funding for a Hydro-Force fogger (sort of a cross between a fire extinguisher and a can of Mace) and maybe a "RedMan" protective training suit but will probably pass on pricier items like the sound blaster his team used to quell a particularly nasty cellblock uprising. "Some of the stuff is pretty hokey dokey," he says, "but some of it is very useful. This lets us work with it and determine which is which."
That hands-on assessment can be a big boon to technology developers, too. Air Force veteran Collins White originally designed his rolling bulletproof barrier with airport security in mind. The brutally frank feedback from corrections officers--variations on the phrase "Ah, that thing doesn't impress me at all, no sir" are common through the weekend--is helping White adapt his Defenshield for prison use. "These guys are fantastically critical," he says. "If they suggest a change, it's not just theoretically better; it's practically better." After last year's riot, he added a foot brake to the unit, so officers wouldn't have to hold it in place. "This year, they were using riot shields along the sides," White notes. "You can bet next year this thing is going to have wings."
Still, most of the corrections officers say that preparation and attitude are at least as important as technology in preventing violence and dealing with it when it happens. In Nevada, notes Budge, his Special Response Team trains in full view of the inmates. "We don't give away all our secrets," he says, "but when they see what we've got, it's a great deterrent." NYC's Malofsky, built like a gymnast in a world of huge, often menacing men, may best represent what separates prison professionals from sadists and thugs: constant training and measured, unflappable control. "I have no problems with the inmates or with my peers, because I take every day seriously," she says. "It's not about size," agrees her considerably more burly teammate Bruce Boyd. "It's about being assertive, not aggressive. If you're a good officer, you can be with 50 inmates alone and you won't have a problem." Moments after disarming me during another standoff, Scott Ryman, the Sacramento, Calif., Sheriff's Department tactical team leader, says, "Really, we could do it with just training and teamwork." But without advanced gear, he says, "we'd get hurt a lot more, and so would they."