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Canyon County jail is first in Idaho to have iris recognition system

The Canyon County jail is the first in Idaho to implement an iris biometric identification recognition system when booking inmates into custody, a process that is more accurate and faster than fingerprinting, the sheriff announced Thursday. (Idaho Statesman)
The Canyon County jail is the first in Idaho to implement an iris biometric identification recognition system when booking inmates into custody, a process that is more accurate and faster than fingerprinting, the sheriff announced Thursday. (Idaho Statesman)

CALDWELL, Idaho – The Canyon County jail is the first in Idaho to implement an iris biometric identification recognition system when booking inmates into custody, a process that is more accurate and faster than fingerprinting, according to authorities.

The photos of the inmates’ eyes are taken as they are booked, but the inmates are still fingerprinted and photographed, the Idaho Statesman reported.

The human eye’s iris is unique and, unlike a fingerprint, cannot be altered, Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue said Thursday.

Some criminals purposefully damage or scar their fingerprints to avoid detection by law enforcement, he said. But even if a person has had eye surgeries, such as Lasik or cataract surgeries, or has sustained an eye injury, irises are still uniquely detectable.

“It’s really important that we understand who is coming into our system and also who is leaving,” Donahue said. “So not only is the person who’s coming into jail scanned through the iris identification system, but also when they are leaving. The last thing we want to do is make a mistake in an identity of someone who is leaving jail.”

The inmates’ irises will be photographed from about 18 inches away, so it is a noninvasive process that takes less than 10 seconds to upload, said John Leonard, senior vice president for BI2 Technologies, the company that created the Inmate Identification and Recognition System, or IRIS.

The iris scans are about 12 times more accurate at identifying a person than a fingerprint, Leonard said.

The sheriff’s office has taken digital photos of 1,588 people’s irises when booking inmates into the Dale G. Haile Detention Center in Caldwell since implementing the system on Aug. 2.

The program, which cost about $10,000, was paid for through a grant the jail receives from the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, Donahue said.

Nationwide, 47 states use IRIS at 250 law enforcement agencies, Leonard said. Every state except Hawaii, Alaska and Delaware has at least one agency using the system, and the information is kept in a major database. About 1.4 million people’s irises are in the database, which is not open to the public. Only certified law enforcement has access.


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