More Technology in Prisons will ensure better outcomes for all

Written by Francis Toye, Group Founder and CEO - ‎Unilink Group

UK Prisons are hardly out of the news these days: whether it’s a new TV program or an EU report on prison conditions.  The justice sector has been working hard to face up to multiple legacy challenges and make prisons more rehabilitative, educative and purposeful. The recent introduction of laptops into HMP Wayland and Berwyn has to applauded, but the introduction of self-service kiosks in a large number of prisons has been happening for a short while now and the evidence of it’s benefits are emerging through academic and anecdotal studies.

Recently a prisoner gave us anecdotal feedback on self-service kiosks in his prison: “The contrast between a prison with and without self-service kiosks is like night and day. Much is made of how prison makes a man better, but really prison will do it’s best to institutionalise a man; make the man dependent of the prison for everything, food, work, money, fresh air, library books etc. etc. and more importantly, information.  It’s hard to have a sense of self-worth when you have no idea of what’s happening when, have no ability to try and manage anything and there are bits of paper continuously lost and stuck in the system. After a while it can be dehumanising fighting such a huge uncaring paper swallowing machine that rarely if randomly spits out a result that is probably different from that requested.

So imagine a  kiosk, where right there all the vital information is laid out in front of you; right there, and then you can push buttons to organize visits, family visits, job applications and so forth, and get confirmation there and then that the work has been actioned.  It is like jumping from the 1860’s Pony Express to the 2017’s smartphone all in one giant leap.  It is the sense of liberation and empowerment that restores a man’s pride and gives him hope he can get through his sentence and come out a better person, that there is hope. A kiosk is only a small thing, the nights are still long and the cells claustrophobic, but at least it means the prison administration works efficiently.

We have been working closely with HMPPS to roll out self-service technology in the publicly operated prison estate.  It’s amazing how much self service is used when available. we alone have so far carried out over 1 Billion prisoner transactions to date.

There is also good evidence as well of the rehabilitative benefits of self-service kiosks.  An independent academic study produced by York University last year concluded that this technology resulted in

  • Staff and prisoners’ expectations and experiences being positive both before and after implementation
  • A statistically significant reduction in staff resource use
  • A statistically significant reduction in proven disciplinary hearings “adjudications” against prisoners
  • An attributable  reduction in staff sickness of 12%
  • A significant increase in completions of Offending Behaviour Programmes; and
  • Perhap most importantly a proven reduction in reoffending

Altogether these findings mean that prisons with technology are safer, more educative and more rehabilitative.  Reducing crime, reducing violence and increasing the rehabilitative effects of incarceration are worthy aims indeed!

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