This is a guest post by @thetartancon
I need to declare a “special interest” before I go on. Serco gave me my first opportunity of work after I left prison. Wyn Jones who is their Custodial Operations Director hired me over 3 years ago, to help him devise a solid, well rounded early days in custody program for all the prisons under his direction. Since then Wyn and I have worked constantly for the betterment of the men sent to either Ashfield, Doncaster, Dovegate, Lowdham Grange, Thameside or Kilmarnock in Scotland.
I have found Serco not only to be empathetic in my cries for better conditions for my fellow prisoners throughout Great Britain but to be supportive and innovative in the way the prisoners are cared for. I believe that the same can be said of a couple of other private providers and many of the public sector prisons.
However, in its latest move, I firmly believe that Serco have developed a tool that surpasses all other methods out there that could not only save a prisoner from taking their own life but will also reduce the horrendous statistic of over 60,000 incidents of self-harm that occur in our jails every year.
Let me take you back to my time in custody.
I isolated myself whilst in jail. For over 9 months I did not step outside into the fresh air. For the same period of time, it was recorded that I did not spend more than 10 minutes a day out of my cell. My BMI (Body Mass Index) went to 11, where my original was 24. I self-harmed in the form of starvation (1 piece of dry Ryvita per day for over 38 days. I didn’t order anything from the prison shop other than tobacco (those were the days) and had no visits. I was on a downward spiral and it was only after a couple of months that this was picked up by my Personal officer. I don’t blame him for not noticing, after all he had 50 other prisoners to deal with and, I presented well enough and when confronted purely said “I am fine.”
Fast forward into today’s world of technology where a number of prisons utilise a Custodial Management System maintained by Unilink. It is a wonderful tool and allows prisoners to book their own visits, appointments, ordering from the prison shop and top up their credit for their telephone account etc. There are kiosk type machines on the wings, they look like this:
The system is a Godsend as it allows the prisoner to take some control over their life. However, the software can do so much more, and it is here where Serco have come to the forefront.
The new Vulnerability Tool can now pick up when your visits are decreased, your weekly spend in the prison shop is low and when phone credit goes below a certain level and is not increased. It can also pick up when you don’t attend work or other activities. These can all be triggers of someone who is isolating themselves away from prison life.
In other words, it recognises when you “depart from the norm”. An alert will be raised, and a report is printed off every morning and digested during the morning meetings that all jails have. The dedicated key worker will then be asked to visit the prisoner to carry out a welfare check that same day.
I believe this to be an absolute game changer in the way a prison can further care for those remanded to them. It is using the advent of technology (I am led to believe that all jails in England & Wales are to have similar technology in the future) at its best.
I know that if this system was in place when I was in prison then perhaps, just perhaps my journey would not have been so harrowing.
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