How Unisys’ Inmate Self-Service platform is using tech to combat recidivism whilst preparing inmates for a better return into society
The traditional view of judicial punishment sees imprisonment as an essentially retributive measure. From this perspective, prison sentences are intended to remove criminals from society and punish them by depriving them of their privileges and freedoms.
However, the retributive approach to imprisonment has not proven to be entirely effective. Self Service supports the law by making the punishment subservient to the return into society. This is certainly true when we consider recidivism levels in countries that arguably adopt a retributive approach to incarceration; 77% of inmates released from US prisons in 2005 offended again and returned to prison within five years. Just over two thirds (68%) returned to prison within three years.
As such, more prisons are adopting a rehabilitative, or restorative, approach towards imprisonment. By creating structure in the daily lives of inmates, and allowing them to be responsible for their own activities, finances, and education, prison systems can more effectively rehabilitate offenders and more successfully prepare them for reintegration into society.
One of the great challenges for modern prisons is how to use technology to facilitate this in inmates’ lives. Unisys has partnered with the Dienst Justitiële Inrichtingen (DJI) in the Netherlands to develop the Inmate Self Service system, a technology platform that will not only enhance the rehabilitation process for Dutch inmates but also provide a multitude of efficiency savings and cost benefits to Dutch prisons.
One Device for Every Aspect of Prison Life
As part of the Inmate Self-Service programme, each prisoner is allocated a personal tablet. From this device the inmate has to be able to organise and manage their daily activities in the prison. For example, In the future if the inmate has a job in the prison, this will appear in their schedule and they will receive alerts to remind them of this activity.
Another example is: Inmates will also be responsible for requesting visits. The actions inmates have to take themselves inside the prison make them aware of the responsibilities they have and it creates awareness of life outside of the prison were they are responsible for their own actions.
Individuals will be able to manage their inmate bank account through the device, tracking their personal finances and ordering items from the prison store online. As a result, prisoners will become more self-reliant and accustomed to managing their own finances on a dayto-day basis, creating a greater sense of financial responsibility for when they re-enter society.
These devices can also be used to educate inmates and improve their prospects of getting a job after release. In face-to-face discussions with prisoners, staff can assess their educational needs and then work with an external educational agency to tailor a course suited to those needs. All of these educational materials can then be delivered through an app on each prisoner’s personal tablet, meaning that inmates can use the device to do all their reading, submit homework and even take exams. An initiative that is sure to give prisoners a sense of ownership and independence regarding their education.
Finally, prisoners will be able to use these devices to maintain ties with the outside world. Inmates can be granted 30 minutes of Skype time in the evenings to speak to their families, or the opportunity to participate in job interviews, or the chance to apply for housing online. This reminds the inmate that they have a family worth rehabilitating for and that can help them build the relationships with society before they return in society and that prevents recidivism.
The tablets themselves are totally secure and placed in a “locked down” state from a software perspective. This means that inmates will not be able access mobile data management capabilities or use the external ports of the device and all functionalities on the tablet are available in multiple languages.
As well as providing rehabilitative benefits for inmates, one of the main advantages to the Inmate Self-Service platform is that it supports the transformation of the role of prison staff from minders to mentors. DJI has taken these steps already and the technology supports that way of working. The technology lowers the administrative burden therefore enabling staff to dedicate more time to the inmates and actively be a mentor and coach.
The tablet devices will support the new way of working and make it much easier for inmates to look into their files and inmate rehabilitation plans, which are guaranteed to all prisoners by Dutch law. In addition, the paper processes that are in place will be replaced this lowers the error margins and that creates less tension between staff and inmates.
It will also make it easier for prison staff to monitor and reward prisoners. Internet usage can be centrally monitored and controlled therefore it should be so that inmates can only access applications they are permitted to or have gained access to via good behaviour. Traffic can also be monitored so that inmates are actually in contact with who they say they are in contact with, and the connection can be terminated at any time if they are not. The platform is able to host third party apps.
In the future the principal of promotion or degradation will be introduced to the platform and apps can be added or taken away from the platform.
One of the unexplored but realistic future possibilities is the possible that all prison store orders are conducted online. The efficiency gain in logistics could be substantial and logistics will be easier to manage. Products could be delivered directly to prisons from a central depo and be ready to distributed to the individual inmates.
There will be efficiency gains for prison staff, who will have more time to spend on prisoner welfare and thus improve their chance of rehabilitation and integration back into society. However, this innovative technology infrastructure will create a need for new skills within the prison service. Staff with the ability to analyse and interpret data, as well as monitor data usage, will be necessary in the future.
The Future of the Programme
Unisys and DJI are in the final stages of configuring the platform. DJI will perform a proof of concept exercise to test the platform and test the devices. Once this initial trial has been successful the platform will be refined before rolling out to other DJI’s facilities over the next two to three years.