Exclusive: It’s time to act to promote rehabilitation

December 21, 2021


Tom Smith, Major Account Sales Manager at Traka UK investigates how security technology can support staff, inmates and prison systems.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of people serving a long-term sentence across England and Wales; meeting the challenges of this change will shape the prison landscape for the foreseeable future.

Back in 2016, the planned prison reforms, which were featured in the Queen’s Speech, highlighted the potential to “fundamentally change” the way dealing with criminal behaviour was approached. 

The hope was to create a “twenty-first-century prison system,” where the Prison Reforms Bill afforded an opportunity to “truly interrogate the fundamental principles which underpin approaches toward rehabilitation.”

This was a chance to make prisons and non-custodial alternatives more effective, introducing security technology both in terms of cost to the public purse and with regards to meaningful behaviour change.

Changes to prison sentences

Between then and now, the prison population has changed. Sentences for more serious crimes have become longer and far more people will now spend 10 or more years in prison.

According to a latest report from the Prison Reform Trust, the long determinate sentenced (LDS) population is generally older than the sentenced prison population overall, with larger proportions seen within all age bands from 40 and older. The largest age group is between 30 and 39, accounting for nearly a quarter of all people serving an LDS. There has also been a marked increase in the number of people in prison who received a long life sentence from a young age.

In addition, not only has there been a spike in long term inmates residing in prisons across the UK, significant health issues have also increased. The most recent suggestions being that there is a crisis of mental health in Britain’s prisons, according to a panel of MPs. Announcing the conclusions of an inquiry into the issues, the committee condemned a “disjointed and incoherent approach” that has “left many prisoners suffering from mental health issues undiagnosed and unable to access care.”

The MPs called on the NHS, the Ministry of Justice and the Prison and Probation Service to improve the system to ensure better identification of health needs and “seamless” care in jails.

The need to introduce security technology

Drawing together several different themes and perspectives, reforms intended to provide recommendations have been drawn on how best to address the challenges being faced in prisons, with security and technology playing a key role.

This must be reviewed alongside issues including, but not restricted to, budget limitations, growing and ageing populations, medical substance abuse, understaffing and ageing buildings.

The “Rehabilitation by Design” study, aimed to offer “practical recommendations relating to the current challenges facing the prison system”, and in doing so, “to reduce anger, violence, anxiety and depression by promoting better mental health and wellbeing.” One significant point of discussion was the better use of technology to support risk reduction, improve staff contact with inmates from a physical and mental health perspective and encourage “responsibilisation through normalisation.”

The hope is that by empowering inmates with more responsibility in terms of time, resource and motivation, with some responsibility for everyday activities including essential medication management, it would reduce frustration within the system and consequential assaults on staff.

Technology and perspective: HMP Berwyn

£212m HMP Berwyn in Wrexham is the largest new build prison in England and Wales and the second largest in Europe. It acts as a smoke-free, closed rehabilitation establishment which holds up to 2,106 adult men. HMP Berwyn was striking in its development specification and how significant efforts had been made to turn a mostly conventional prison into a more inspirational and uplifting environment.

HMP Berwyn is also unique because it has been constructed with the use of technology at its forefront; this is throughout the prison for both the men and the staff, from the use of ‘in-room’ technology with laptops connected to an internal prison network given to each man in custody, to technologies that help staff operate the facilities.

Traka key cabinets operate the main key management system for the prison rooms. This has recently been extended to the NHS-run pharmacy department, where a key cabinet – initially to manage 90 keys – has room for medical and sharp ‘restricted’ tools that must be carefully managed within the prison environment.

The move to embrace technology is one of the key opportunities for developments in the prisons’ policy under the Justice 2030 project; within this, building services for offenders themselves regain an appropriate level of autonomy, including managing some of their day-to-day requirements.

Traka also continues to invest in the development of security technology to provide leading, innovative, secure and effective real world solutions to the challenges that institutions face in managing inmate healthcare and prison population health more broadly. For example, installations such as the medication distribution lockers have shown to support inmates as they look to manage and control their own time, resources and motivation in their own journey towards rehabilitation.

What it shows is how the use of security technology in prisons can have multiple benefits for inmates and staff alike and can “reduce anger, violence, anxiety and depression” by supporting inmate responsibility. Ultimately, this leads to better mental health and wellbeing, even for those who are serving longer sentences.

Traka has produced an in-depth white paper, looking in great detail at ‘How technology can support the 21st-century prison systems.” It is now available to download at: https://systems.traka.com/white-papers/prisons

This article was originally published in the December edition of Security Journal UK. To read your FREE digital edition, visit: digital.securityjournaluk.com

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