Texas prisoners trained to provide valuable GIS services

September 23, 2015

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According to a recent RAND Corporation study, prison inmates who receive general education and vocational training are significantly less likely to return to prison after release, and are more likely to find employment, than peers who do not receive training. With that in mind, Texas Correctional Industries, a department within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, is training prisoners to become GIS professionals.

As part of the TCI, the Ferguson GIS Facility offers a complete line of GIS and data conversion services to local government agencies, public educational systems and other tax-supported entities. The services range from scanning, georeferencing, digitization and data cleanup to complete GIS data conversion projects, including database design, setup and population.

There is a clear benefit to the agencies receiving these goods and services, and in return, the prisoners benefit from training that could ultimately translate into marketable job skills. The projects help offset the cost of the program while providing real world challenges to the offender workforce, which is the ultimate goal of all the projects undertaken at the facility.

With four full-time employees and an offender workforce of 25, the Ferguson GIS Facility uses Hexagon Geospatial solutions in virtually all of its projects. From early versions of MicroStation, MGE, IrasB, IrasC, and Geovec, to the first versions of GeoMedia Professional and now to the newest version of GeoMedia Professional, the facility has utilized Hexagon Geospatial solutions since its inception in 1993.

“Hexagon Geospatial software provides the ease of use, efficiency and the ability to handle multiple data formats, which is ideal for the projects that we run at the facility,” said Robert Laake, facility manager at the Ferguson GIS Facility. “In addition, the software helps us process large amounts of data, as well as quickly display images, which aids in managing multiple projects for our end-users.”

The Ferguson GIS Facility recently achieved some significant project milestones: For the Texas Department of Transportation, the facility performed data cleanup and verification for all 254 counties in the state. For the City of Amarillo, the facility implemented a GIS data conversion project for 80,000+ parcels along with the city street centerline network, which included the water network, sewer network, storm-drainage and zoning. Over the past 20-plus years, the facility has completed similar projects for a multitude of cities, counties and state agencies.

GeoMedia Professional 2015 has been a core component of all of the facility’s current projects. “The software gives us the ability to connect to and read all of the different data formats in their native format, which has tremendously reduced the overhead previously required to edit update the data in its native format,” Laake said. “We find that the ability to complete an entire project with a single software package is most beneficial to our facility.”

In terms of training, two employees were recently certified as GeoMedia Professional instructors. The facility also provides an Intergraph-approved training course to all of the offender workers.

Moving forward, the Ferguson GIS Facility will continue to leverage Hexagon Geospatial’s solutions for providing geospatial and data conversion services for its end-users. Most importantly, the facility will continue striving to provide real-world geospatial experience to offenders who have the potential opportunity to become geospatial professionals in the real world one day. 


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