Technology is the key to helping prisons fulfill their duty of care

How intelligence management can protect the entire community

Gordon Harrison, Industry Expert, Public Security SAS

Across the world, prisons perform a similar function – as places where individuals who have committed crimes can be confined and their movements and freedoms restricted.

Most share similar problems from bullying to communal violence; drug smuggling; corruption and manipulation. They should all also be an integral part of their community. Staff and suppliers typically come from the local area. When prisoners are released they must integrate back into society. As a result, prisons hold a duty of care not just to prisoners but to staff and the wider environment in which they operate.

Being able to use systems to contribute to and quickly gather information about each prisoner is crucial to providing a duty of care to them as well as staff and the wider community.

The need to handle prisoners effectively is vital to this. Intelligence collection and management are also key in deterring potential trouble-makers and protecting the broader prison community.

Accessing the right information

It is standard practice for security departments to develop intelligence products to aid decision-making, affecting everything from parole to temporary release, re-categorization, work placements and cell allocation.

However, in the absence of modern widely accessible systems, security departments require to proactively collect information from staff and prisoners. The result is that assessments are made without access to all available information, can be flawed in their judgments or even unintentionally misleading. Being able to use systems to contribute to and quickly gather information about each prisoner is, therefore, crucial to providing a duty of care to them as well as staff and the wider prison environment.

In the event that a prisoner takes his cellmate hostage and makes demands of the authorities, being able to rapidly access intelligence about the prisoner and their cellmate will be key in helping negotiators bring the hostage drama to an end. Critically too, it will help avoid the hostage being injured in addition to protecting the broader prison population.

But this duty of care should never just be about what happens within prison. It must be extended to help protect the wider community outside the gates. Take the scenario where a prisoner suffers an apparent medical emergency. The authorities will need to take a view on whether the injury or illness is genuine. In this situation, having access to high-quality intelligence about the prisoner could be key to the completion of an informed risk assessment, putting in place a police shadow, or deciding how many staff should escort the prisoner to hospital.

Being able to do this quickly is essential. The prisoner could be genuinely ill and, if their condition deteriorates because of a delay, their health could be threatened. The key is finding a balance between upholding a duty of care for prisoners and protecting the public.

Engaging with criminal justice partners

The effective sharing of information with external agencies is of paramount importance in maintaining prison management systems and in safeguarding the broader community.

In making this happen, prison management needs to build trust and encourage an inward and outward flow of information about prisoners between prisons and third-party agencies with ‘a need to know.’ Developing this kind of relationship also helps management become more proactive in disseminating relevant information to the appropriate agency e.g. police, probation service or social services.

It is also key to use systems to pinpoint issues relating to prisoners that might otherwise have been hidden. When a prisoner is eligible for parole, a report on his or her conduct is required by the parole board. Technology can be used to provide the complete picture identifying both negative and positive prisoner behaviour during their time inside.

Managing offenders back into the community

The current emphasis within prisons on rehabilitating prisoners and preventing them from reoffending is the most high profile way in which the authorities are seeking to change the prison experience to ensure that when they leave prison, inmates focus on making a positive contribution to the wider community.

Information management technology can play an equally critical role in helping the prison authorities enhance internal prison management while strengthening the impact prisons have on the wider community, ensuring that prisoners are fully prepared to return to the outside world on release, while fulfilling their responsibility to protect the public.

shadows of two men exchanging illicit materials

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