November 23, 2021

The pandemic fast-forwarded the discussion of technology in prison, but how to balance connection to the outside world while maintaining a good security level?

In the UK, during the lockdowns associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, we stayed connected with others thanks to easy access to communication technology. Getting on Skype, WhatsApp on our phones and talking to our family and friends any time of the day was not ideal but enabled us to stay connected relatively easy.

For many Prisoners in the UK and around the world, unfortunately, the reality was different. Throughout the pandemic, prisoners have faced the biggest challenge of maintaining relationships with their family, friends, and support system, which negatively impacted their mental health and their rehabilitative journeys. Also, prison staff and probation officers have struggled to perform their day-to-day duties. They had to rethink how to effectively communicate with their caseload and check their client’s wellbeing. Some agencies used technology to alleviate these challenging situations and decrease pressure to deliver rehabilitation services.

The benefits of being connected through technology in prisons

The more disconnected someone becomes from the outside world, the harder it is to re-connect effectively.
Before going back into society, it is necessary to prepare prisoners for their release. Imagine a young prisoner being away from the job market for years; the probability of coming back into the community and starting a better life is very unpromising. Providing prisoners with access to external systems for education, healthcare, accommodation, and seeking employment is a significant incentive to help individuals set up a new way of living when released and ultimately reduce recidivism.

To stay connected with supportive family and friends is another key determinant of successful re-entry into society. There has been significant progress in secure digital communications for prisoners. Multiple communication methods are available, including text messaging, voice messages and video calls to increase interpersonal interaction. Using these services in prison based on real-world applications not only makes offenders feel connected with the outside but also give prisoners familiarisation and confidence with digital communications.

Although security has always been a priority when designing devices to be used in prisons, there are still concerns around the topic of technology for prisoners.

How to overcome security concerns?

Usually, when the idea of technology in prison is discussed, it raises concern that prisoners may get an unlocked tablet with full internet access to look up and do whatever they wish. This, of course, is not the case. in fact, tablets are locked down and secure, so only authorised content and services can be accessed.

Internet access is required to access some content for prisoners and probationers e.g., external services for government support, healthcare, etc. However, it is now possible to provide internet access in a secure and controlled way. Staff can decide what kind of content to approve for access based on the individuals needs and risk level. Staff can also implement specific rules for each device, such as a restricted time spent on tablets.Alternatively, many resources can be downloaded to the prisoners and probationer devices and accessed offline.

Technology solutions allow probationers to communicate with staff and enable prisoners to stay connected with the outside world. Regardless of the adopted resolution, communication platforms are controlled and monitored by the systems, and whenever anything suspicious needs attention, the system will capture it and notify the staff. Also, only pre-approved people outside the prisons can start communications with prisoners. This will ensure that prisoners can have those important conversations with their families. Soon face recognition tools for monitoring video calls will become more widely available, providing an added layer of security.

Audit trails can be created by the systems. There is the possibility of getting a full report of all offenders’ actions and tracking all the activities on their personal devices. The complete audit trail helps increase accountability, monitor for staff misconduct, and reduce potential litigation.

Finally, as technology evolves, also security methods will grow with it. However, technology in prison is now more secure than ever before and should be embraced as a new way to help people in the justice system.