Last week (16 July), The MoJ published its evaluation of digital technology in prisons. Authored by Dr Emma Palmer, Dr Ruth Hatcher and Dr Matt Tonkin of the University of Leicester, the evaluation looked at the impact of:
- in-cell telephony, whereby PIN telephones are installed within prisoner cells, rather than on landings;
- self-service kiosks on wing landings which allow prisoners to complete administrative tasks that were previously completed through a paper-based system;
- in-cell laptops allowing prisoners to access the same functions as through the wing self-service kiosks; and
- mobile devices for prison staff with access to Prison-National Offender Management Information System (P-NOMIS).
The evaluation listed five key aims of these technologies:
- Provide more opportunities for prisoners to build skills (including IT skills), and assist in their rehabilitation.
- Provide prisoners with the ability to be more responsible for themselves.
- Improve relationships between prisoners and between prisoners and staff, thereby reducing prison violence.
- Improve relationships between prisoners and people outside of prison.
- Increase staff job satisfaction.
The main findings were:
- Prisoners and staff perceived that the accessibility of the in-cell telephones, self-service kiosks and laptops were a significant improvement on previous arrangements of wing telephones and the paper applications system.
- Prisoners reported having more privacy and time to make calls on in-cell telephones and analysis of call data demonstrated an increase in telephone use after the implementation of in-cell telephones. However, in all prisons, prisoners considered the cost of telephone calls to be too high, even though the costs were lower for the in-cell telephones than those on the wings.
- There was no perceived reduction in the promptness of responses to applications, and prisoners appreciated the transparency of the digital technology for the application process. The benefit of self-service kiosks/laptops in cells on ordering canteen and meals was less clear-cut.
- Some staff felt that the in-cell telephones were likely to have reduced illicit mobile phone use for those prisoners using mobile phones to keep in touch with family.
- Outages of the in-cell telephones and self-service kiosks caused significant problems on the wings, with prisoners becoming frustrated. Contingency plans did not appear sufficiently robust and would benefit from review.
- Staff were less enthusiastic about the P-NOMIS mobile devices, reflected in the low usage of the handsets in both prisons which had this technology. However, the staff who did use it noted a number of advantages, in that the devices allowed them to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently through having information at their fingertips.
Other findings included:
- Some prisoners and staff were hesitant to engage with the new technology, often because they were unfamiliar with it.
- Misuse of the digital technology was rare.
- The implementation of the technology, particularly in-cell telephones, reduced the potential for tensions on the wings between prisoners and staff.
- It was also felt that-cell telephones reduced bullying and victimisation between prisoners using wing telephones.
- The privacy associated with-cell telephones was seen as important in helping prisoners maintain family ties, particularly for those with young children.
- Technology also had a positive impact in reducing staff workloads, particularly when processing prisoner balance requests and prisoner applications, menu orders and canteen.
The overall conclusion was that the implementation of digital technologies was judged to be successful, particularly the in-cell telephones.
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the images in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.