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23 May 2023

Balancing high security and rehabilitation in prisons – the role of technology

Prisons play a critical part of the criminal justice system, serving as places of punishment, rehabilitation, and the protection of society. However achieving a balance between high security and a rehabilitative environment is essential. It safeguards the public, reduces reoffending and fosters effective rehabilitation efforts.

Discover how technology is reshaping the landscape and helping to promote rehabilitation.

Creating a rehabilitative culture

Rehabilitation is a collective responsibility within prisons and the whole regime has the potential to support or undermine this outcome. From routine experiences such as how security checks and searches are conducted, to the attitudes towards authority; every aspect of prison life can either reinforce or challenge an individual’s rehabilitation journey.

As Mann and Howard (2018) put it

In order to overcome the many obstacles to rehabilitation that prison produces, the way in which a prison runs needs to be carefully and thoughtfully designed, in ways which may mean quite large changes from traditional approaches to prison management.”

Rehabilitative culture is found most strongly in the relationships between the staff of a prison and the people in their care. This underpins and supports further discrete rehabilitative work or activity, which when undertaken within a rehabilitative culture, may have a greater impact”.

Prison management must balance security requirements while respecting prisoners’ dignity and implementing positive, constructive regimes.

The role of technology

New smart buildings – Smart prisons, especially in high-income countries, are digitising prisons to improve security, efficiency, and access to services. As well as cutting edge security systems innovations include in-cell tablets to enable prisoners to access education and learning materials.  Establishments too are designed with spaces to facilitate education, employment, healthcare and purposeful activities. An example in Finland, where a prison equipped all cells with laptops, for communication, video calls, limited internet access and daily tasks. This growing trend emphasises smart prisons and in-cell technology for enhanced rehabilitation opportunities.

Cutting-edge security technology – Investment in enhanced security including gate security, x-ray body scanners, and biometric visitor identification to disrupt drug supply and criminal networks. Neglecting such investments undermines rehabilitation efforts and erodes public confidence in the system.

Regime reform – Prisons globally have found innovative ways of bringing digital technology into prisons to improve both digital literacy and access to other types of education. This equips prisoners with skills and qualifications for post-release employment. Through the integration of e-learning platforms, prisoners can improve literacy, numeracy and access to a wide range of vocational courses. These opportunities enhance successful reintegration into society and help to reduce recidivism rates. 

Facilitating communication and family connections – Technology is also enabling prisoners to connect with loved ones through email, video calls, and secure messaging platforms. These avenues bridge physical distance, maintain family bonds, reduce isolation and enhance successful reintegration after release.

Key to successful prisoner reintegration

To achieve successful rehabilitation in prisons, it is crucial to strike a balance between high security measures and effective rehabilitation efforts.  While technology plays a vital role, it must be complemented with supportive measures and positive constructive regimes. These measures allow for more valuable human engagement between officers and prisoners.  By adopting this balanced approach, prisoners receive the necessary support for successful integration back into society; ultimately reducing reoffending rates and creating safer communities.

If you want to discover more how innovative technologies are making a difference in creating secure rehabilitative environments, contact us today.

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