Prison Break: Husband and Wife Start a New Chapter After Decades of State Prison Work
By Roibín Ó hÉochaidh (11/23/2009)

Following his recent retirement as director of security technology with the Massachusetts Department of Correction, Alexander Fox is leaving the public sector after a 29-year career to focus his energies, efforts and expertise on security and technology issues as a private sector consultant.

Fox, an expert in emerging correctional technology, has experience in minimum and maximum-security facilities and has served in a variety of DOC leadership positions. Previous responsibilities included correctional management, facility operations, inmate classification, policy development and other areas of the corrections process.

Offered the chance to take early retirement from the DOC recently, Fox decided to make the move from public corrections to the private sector in an effort to do more in the field.

“Having worked in corrections for almost 30 years, I understand the application of technology relative to the needs and imperatives of facilities — contraband flows and concealed weapons detection, inmate tracking, less-than-lethal force — I understand where technology development is now and where it’s going,” Fox says. “Equally, I understand the routine constraints, pressures and headaches of correctional agency management.”

From his new home in Arizona, Fox now provides consulting services for a number of private technology companies in the areas of emerging technology, security operations, policy evaluations and vulnerability assessments. He is also a frequent guest speaker at industry events.

“As a state employee my allegiance was to the Massachusetts DOC and I felt limited in what I could do with other agencies and stakeholders in terms of advising on the implementation of security technology and working to develop technologies for application in corrections,” Fox says. “That’s really where my heart is; it’s the development and introduction of technology.”

However, technology may not always represent the right solution for every problem or every facility, Fox says.

“Technology often gets a bad rap when agencies buy a technology, use it and continue to have the problem,” he says. “But technology is just a tool, it didn’t provide a solution because the agency didn’t have a good understanding of the problem or its source to begin with.”

Officials should have a clear understanding of the problem before they move past the assessment process and select a solution, Fox says.

“Before looking to implement a technological solution, you first must get to the core of the problem and then evaluate non-technology aspects, such as policy and procedural issues, where implementing changes could solve the problem at little or no cost,” Fox says.

Fox is joined in his new consulting venture by his wife Dorothy, who also held several senior management and information technology leadership positions at the Massachusetts DOC during her 22-year career, including director of systems development and chief of administrative resolution.

“We felt going into business together in consulting, by pooling our attributes and expertise — one in security technology and the other in information technology — we could have more of an impact nationally and make much more of a difference in corrections,” Dorothy Fox says.

Technology Bug

As is the case for many committed corrections professionals, Alex Fox did not view his entry into the field as a life-long career move.

“I was on the unemployment line, looking in the newspaper for work and came across a very small advertisement for a DOC social worker,” he says. “I worked as a substance-abuse counselor for maybe 8 months.”

After less than a year, he landed the more secure position of psychiatric social worker with the DOC.

“At the outset, it was certainly a case of being attracted to a steady income in a field in which I had some training and experience,” he says.

From there, Fox served in a variety of capacities: unit manager in a maximum–security facility, deputy superintendent of treatment and correctional facility superintendent, a position he held for more than 15 years.

Fox’s subsequent transition into security and technology had an equally serendipitous pushing-off point. In a case of mistaken identity, he was approached in 2002 to establish and develop the Office of Security Technology for the DOC. A surprised Fox expressed an interest and agreed to take on the leadership role.

“From that first foray into technology, I quickly realized that technology, its assessment and development for corrections was a real passion of mine, and one that led me into a completely different life within the correctional arena,” he says.

His first move was to establish what would become the Northeast Technology Product Assessment Committee, which brings together 13 state departments of correction, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory Sandia and the U.S. Army National Protection Center to evaluate emerging technology for corrections.

“As a body, we evaluated technology, both off-the-shelf and emerging, for application in corrections,” he says. “Most of us on the committee were essentially practitioners and professionals, and I thought bringing Johns Hopkins and Sandia on board would give us a whole new and a highly valuable perspective to our initiative.”

At the time, Fox found the military sector was a major source of knowledge and technology because of the ease of transferability to corrections.

“Metal detectors were being refined, the performance of X-ray scanning systems of different manufacturers, which were already being utilized for contraband detection, was being evaluated, and various biometric and inmate-tracking technologies that were being talked about were beginning to take off,” he says. “There was also a lot of product refinement going on in terms of improving existing technologies and products for corrections.”

Fox also established ongoing dialogues with departments of correction throughout the United States, the National Institute of Justice, academic and scientific research centers, corporate entities and technology developers.

“Everything I did revolved around identifying technology that could be applied in corrections and that experience and those relationships provided me with great insight with regard to best practices at the state level.”

Today, it’s video analytics that most excites Fox as one of the emerging technologies that could have a major impact on the field.

“Analytics promises to have a profound effect on how we build prisons and jails, and how we monitor inmates in a perimeter setting,” he says.

Dual Perspectives

With a bachelor of science degree in education from Bridgewater State College, Dorothy Fox has developed broad corrections experience across a range of disciplines, including security operations, inmate classification, treatment and program development, and information technology.

“It’s a learning process we have to keep pace with because we all know technology is continually evolving,” she says. “To able to share with the field what I learned during that time is a wonderful opportunity.”

Throughout her 22-year career, Dorothy Fox has been involved with several aspects, levels and disciplines within the DOC organization, but she cites her involvement with re-engineering and technology as the most challenging, rewarding and productive experience during her time in corrections.

In 1996, she chaired a multidisciplinary task force that was charged with developing a plan to overhaul the department’s inmate processes, from booking through release, that would serve as a blueprint for the development of an automated inmate management system.

“Massachusetts DOC was really a pioneer in that regard because, at that time no, other state had delved as deeply into the reform, re-engineering and business process aspect,” she says.

The following year, she was appointed to the newly created position of director of systems development where she managed all aspects of the re-engineering initiative and pioneered the development and implementation of the largest, most comprehensive and integrated inmate management system in the United States. The system later became a model for many state and county correctional systems.

Product and Process

There is significantly more involved in the equation for Dorothy Fox than the technology component. One of her major contributions in Massachusetts revolved around the notion of a systems approach — the relationship between the business process and the technology.

“Unfortunately, the tendency is for security technology folks to think it’s all about the product and for program folks to think it’s all about the process, and they don’t necessarily work together or see the value one with the other,” she says. “For me, you have to approach it in a different way, you build the technology to support the process.”

Through her experience and involvement with reform initiatives, she became recognized within the DOC for her understanding of the intersect between product and process and her ability to integrate security with program operations.

“You can’t just throw technology at a problem, you first have to have a foundation in place for the technology to be effective,” she says. “Only then can you overlay the technology.”

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