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Prisons and Technology

Written by Francis Toye, CEO of Unilink

The Digital Leaders Pop-up on Prison Technology was in Edinburgh on Wednesday 25th November to hear the results of Professor Cynthia McDougall’s (York University) research into the effectiveness of prisoner self-service. Attendees came from the public, private and third sectors, many with detailed first-hand knowledge of the sector and some coming to understand this innovative technology for the first time.

Following Professor McDougall’s presentation outlining the findings, Andy Hill, Head of Performance and Compliance for Serco at HMP Kilmarnock provided the audience with two perspectives, one from that of Serco and one written for Andy by a life sentence prisoner.

Andy quoted a long term prisoner’s reflections on the system in his prison after using it for 5 years talking about what he can do on the kiosks,

“…. Well for one, it gets me out of bed so that I can book my visits. I don’t need the staff to chase a booking clerk to check that my visits have been booked. My visitors can get an email or text to let them know when they need to be at the prison.

I can choose my food for the next two weeks, and if I choose that I no longer want to have the macaroni cheese next Thursday then I can make the change myself – I don’t need staff to phone the kitchens for me anymore.

If I want to buy something from the canteen, we can see on our Kiosks if it’s in stock – we can even order our fruit and health supplements through the kiosk – No more missing stock order forms.

There is a great deal of frustration when your phone runs out and of course this still happens, but at least now I go to my kiosk and top up my phone from there. If I’ve got the money in my account, I can transfer it to my phone.

The greatest thing I have experience is the email-a-prisoner function. Being able to go to my kiosk and view messages from my friends and family is fantastic, and now that we can reply I can easily let my family know that I am safe and well.

An enthusiastic discussion followed… SPS is known for its positive attitude to innovation and there was one comment that all the Governors knew about self-service, liked what it offered, would like it to have even greater capability and would like it now.

As one participant said, all the private prisons have the system and they have it for one reason only. It saves money, other benefits aside.

So two salons, two successes; many thanks to Digital Leaders and to participants for their attendance and contributions. The road show next convenes in Cardiff before a final event in London and then a web enabled salon for worldwide overseas participants.

Francis Toye is CEO of Unilink – winner of the DL100 2015

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