Technology in aid of the prison reform – tackling reoffending and focusing on rehabilitation

Written by Francis Toye, CEO Unilink

This month, prisons in the UK were in the limelight of the press. Sadly, majority of the times, the reasons weren’t good and far from positive. Once the reports focused on the riots at the HMP The Mount; the rising violence, self-harm and tension; then the findings of the Lord Farmer’s report suggesting more should be done for the rehabilitation of inmates. This very same report is also highlighting the importance of maintaining healthy relationships between the prisoner and their friends and family.  The research indicates that reoffending rates are 39% lower among prisoners who keep in touch or receive visits from a partner or relative, compared to those inmates who did not have family contact. The review makes a number of recommendations to help improve prisoner contact with friends and family.

Unilink Software has been shaping the world of corrections since 2001. We recognised the need of providing tools for prisoner communications a long time ago and we are constantly working on improving the relationships between prisoners and their families. Our email-a-prisoner service is implemented in nearly 98% of all prisons today and with the reply service really helps to maintain contact.

The justice secretary, David Lidington, said the government was committed to transforming prisons into places of safety and recognised the need to provide inmates with opportunities to change their behaviour.

‘Officers spending time with prisoners is the key to changing prisoners’ lives – we know that.’ said Michael Spurr, the chief executive of the National Offender Management Service Agency during Prison Officers’ Summer Symposium 2017.

We could not agree more – Unilink’s prisoner self-service frees officers from a lot of administration tasks and allows them to focus on vital work with the men they are in change of.  It’s about getting the basics right, you can’t solve the most difficult problems of prisons if prisoners have little confidence in the paper based administration systems and prisoners feel infantalised.  You need to get these basics right before anything else.

Over 40,000 Offenders currently use Unilink’s self-service system which has processed over 1,500,000,000 self-service transactions to date.  Consequently it is well tested and proven in prison environments.

The product is in use in over 60 establishments in UK, South Australia and New Zealand.

Using technology, the system takes many routine but vital prison processes from paper driven, to IT driven – with often no prison officer involvement.  The system assists prison management by providing up to date information on prison performance, to enable prisons to work more effectively.

Self-service gives confidence to Offenders that requests are handled efficiently and accountably, but it also requires Offenders to shoulder more responsibility, preparing them for life after release. 

It has even been academically proven to help rehabilitation and prevent reoffending, visible by the findings of the research on self-service produced by Prof C McDougall from the University of York. 

“When I moved to HMP Northumberland I was so happy to see a Unilink kiosk. In my previous prisons friends spoke of how the kiosks made everything so much easier and reduced frustration and anger. And they weren’t wrong; I could see people taking charge of their lives, of having real-time information in front of them showing them their money, their work allocations, their visits and so forth. It was like going from the information blackout to a place where you felt like you mattered. The contrast between a prison with and without self-service is like night and day” SM from HMP Northumberland.

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