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30 November 2021

Efficient Prisoner Movement at Davis House


The Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) is an agency within the Department of Justice. It is responsible for the operation and delivery of services within the Northern Ireland prison system. NIPS has three prison establishments, namely, Maghaberry, Magilligan and Hydebank Wood College and Women’s Prison with a prisoner population 1,448 Individuals (Sept 2021) and has a current imprisonment rate of 76 per 100,000 adult population.

The Service has been committed to create an environment that promotes rehabilitation, reduce risk and enhance public safety by developing its Estate.  A key project within their estate strategy included the construction of a new houseblock, Davis House in HMP Maghaberry

Maghaberry Prison is the only Category ‘A’ prison in Northern Ireland and also operates as a remand prison for all adult male prisoners in the country. It accommodates a range of sentenced prisoners such as life sentence, indeterminate and extended custody prisoners, separated prisoners, fine defaulters and civil prisoners.

Construction of a new £54m houseblock began in September 2016 and opened in November 2019.  The new houseblock incorporated 372 single occupancy cells and was the largest capital build undertaken by NIPS in over 30 years, marking the beginning of a new and innovative chapter for the Service. 


As the construction phase for Davis House was advancing and on target, NIPS began to focus on the operational aspects of managing a large residential block and the logistics of external movement to/from other parts of the prison.

Monitoring internal prisoner movements is a constant challenge especially as prisoners move from one area of the prison to another.  Significant effort and attention by prison staff is required including manually issuing paper passes, accurately performing visual identifications, delivering appropriate supervision, frequently communicating via telephone and radio between officers and physically recording when prisoners have left one area and entered another.

NIPS sought to determine how technology could deliver a secure, reliable, and robust solution, freeing staff from the manual processes to focus on general prisoner management, rehabilitation, and dynamic security.

In an effort to efficiently manage movements and have access to real time location data, Lava Group partnered with Sopra Steria to develop a bespoke biometric authentication solution to ensure a smooth, speedy and secure passage from Davis House to other parts of the prison.


Tephra Movements is a multi mode access device that was developed to accurately confirm the identity and control the movement of prisoners leaving the houseblock to attend another location.  For increase security, two-factor authentication was used to verify identities by applying a combination of biometric (fingerprint / facial) , RFID and/or PIN, to create a strong multifactor authentication system.

Prisoners simply used their contactless ID cards and scan their fingerprint / face to progress through the secure turnstile to leave their location. By linking with Sopra’s prisoner management system it checks the prisoner’s diary and eliminates duplicate data entry.  If an appointment is scheduled at the time and the system verifies their identity, Tephra Movements would enable them to leave. 

The system is flexible, enabling both staff and prisoners to use the same full height turnstiles.  The average speed of flow through the turnstile is fast and efficient, requiring only 6 sec per individual.

Real-time information and an accurate record of prisoner location is available.  The system provides real time staff alerts to

  • Incorrect identification match
  • Unapproved attempted movement
  • Exceeded expected travel time
  • Non-arrival at a location
  • Access attempts at wrong location

The secure and good order of moving prisoners within establishments, requires systems to be reliable, controlled, robust and secure.  Access restrictions are applied.  Movements are assessed on security risk and/or the maximum number of movements at any one time.


Tephra’s Movement is a central component to the prison’s security management function and supports the Service to ensure a safe and secure environment by streamlining movements efficiently. Davis House runs with a core day shift of 27 prison officers. Considering the logistics involved in managing the daily routines and movements of 372 prisoners including recreation, meals, learning and skills course attendance and healthcare, this is extremely efficient.

The solution provides the Service with:

  • Efficient deployment of staff – Less time is required to managing movements and frees up vital time for officers to do more valuable tasks.  This has been calculated to save 2 ½ hrs per officer per day.
  • Improves staff and prisoner social interaction – facilities staff time for meaningful engagement and individual interaction with prisoners, which in turn supports rehabilitation.
  • Enhances prisoners self-esteem – gives prisoners greater controlled movement and provides less dependence on staff escorts. It removes unnecessary delays and reduces frustration which has a direct influence on good order within the prison.
  • Greater accountability – the system simplifies reconciliation of prisoner movements and offers greater control of movements based on scheduled activities between the houseblock and other areas of the prison.

This transformational digital project allows prisoners to move unescorted securely to attend scheduled activities and appointments and facilitates staff time to focus on rehabilitation. It is a testament to the commitment, expertise and focus of the project team that we achieved our project on time and within budget.

Retired Director of Prisons, for the Northern Ireland Prison Service

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