This is worrying.

Los Angeles Jail guards at the Pitchess Detention Center, Castiac, CA have a new weapon in their armory. The 7 1/2-foot-tall ‘Assault Intervention Device’ emits an invisible 5-inch-square beam that causes an “unbearable sensation”.

The device is manufactured by Raytheon, an 80 year old multibillion dollar surveillance, radar and missile specialist with a catalogue of space-war technologies. Compared to Raytheon’s sprawling, global and stratospheric innovations, the ‘Assault Intervention Device’ is small, contained and personal.

Cmdr. Bob Osborne of the LA County Sheriff’s Technology Exploration Program, one of several deputies who tested (see video) the ‘Assault Intervention Device’, described the experience, “I equate it to opening an oven door and feeling that blast of hot air, except instead of being all over me, it’s more focused.”

The device – controlled by a joystick & computer monitor and with a 100 foot range – will be mounted near the ceiling in a unit at Pitchess housing about 65 inmates.

NBC Los Angeles reports, “The energy traveling at the speed of light penetrates the skin up to 1/64 of an inch deep. […] ‘Assault Intervention Device’ is being evaluated for a period of six months by the National Institute of Justice for use in jails nationwide.”

The statistics for violence at Pitchess are quite shocking – 257 inmate-on-inmate assaults occurred in the first half of the 2010.

Pitchess, a facility with 3,700 inmates, is a large facility with riots (some very recently) and obviously needs to counter the culture of violence. I just wonder whether shooting brawling inmates with lasers is the right way to go about it?

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I have looked at highly sophisticated technologies before and how their imaging can affect our understanding of prison life, tension, engagement.

How would images of prisoners reeling from a ‘Assault Intervention Device’ laserbeam influence public opinion about this new fan-dangled correctional management tool? The deputies who’ve tested it say it’s unbearable and can only be endured for three seconds maximum, yet everyone knows that tasers are often repeatedly discharged upon stubborn, adrenaline-fuelled (sometimes drugged up) targets.

Again, very worrying.