Features: July 26th, 2013

Prisons don’t exist in isolation; they should be an integral part of the community and fulfil a duty of care. In this article Gordon Harrison explains how intelligence management technology plays an important part in fulfilling a responsibility to protect the public as well as contributing to internal prison management.

Across the world, most prisons fulfil a similar function – as places where individuals who have committed crimes are physically confined, and their movements and freedoms restricted. Typically, they also have similar challenges to overcome: from bullying to outbreaks of communal violence and from prisoners smuggling drugs and mobile phones to dealing with issues around corruption and manipulation.

Prisons worldwide also share another important characteristic. They either are, or should be, an integral part of the community in which they are located. While many people think of prisons as being isolated from the rest of society, the reverse is typically true. Most staff and suppliers come from the local community. And when they are released, prisoners emerge directly into it. For these reasons, prisons hold a duty of care not just to the prisoners themselves but to their staff and the wider community in which they live and work.

A critical element of this duty of care is dealing with prisoners effectively. Collecting and managing information and developing it into meaningful intelligence is key to this. This is far more than an administrative requirement, tracking basic personal details and changes to their address and prison status, important though all that information is. Intelligence collection and management plays a key role in protecting communities both inside and outside prison.

Gaining Access to the Right Information

Being able to use systems to access information about each prisoner quickly is vitally important to this. To take one example, if at 1 a.m. a prisoner takes his cellmate hostage and starts making ransom demands, prison senior management will be able to rapidly access intelligence both about the prisoner carrying out the offence and his cell mate. This might provide some key information to aid the hostage negotiators. Perhaps it is the anniversary of the prisoner’s mother’s death for example, or of his original conviction. These kinds of clues can be briefed to the negotiators, enabling them to start a line of dialogue, bringing the hostage drama to an end as quickly as possible and ultimately avoid the hostage being injured as well as helping to protect the broader prison community.

This kind of approach can also be key in protecting the wider community outside the prison gates. Take the scenario where a prisoner falls to the ground in pain, clutching his stomach. The medical team says he needs to go to hospital. On the surface, it looks like a medical emergency but is it? It could be a clever ruse for an escape plot. There have been examples where ambulances have been attacked en route and prisoners released. In this kind of situation, having access to high-quality intelligence about the prisoner could be critical in the completion of an informed risk assessment, putting in place a police shadow, or deciding how many staff should escort the prisoner to hospital.

Being able to conduct this process quickly is also important. The prisoner could be genuinely ill and if their condition deteriorates because of a delay, then their health and safety could be threatened. In such circumstances, there needs to be a balance between a duty of care for prisoners and protecting the interests of the public.

Quality and Integrity

Ensuring that the quality and integrity of the information collected is maintained at all times is another key driver for prison management systems. This in turn contributes to safeguarding the wider community by streamlining links with external agencies.

Systems should be able to protect the source of the information but also grade it in terms of reliability. In this way, prison management can gain credibility with partner agencies, such as social services and law enforcement. This helps build trust and encourage an inward and outward flow of information between prisons and those third party agencies who have a need to know.

Developing this relationship should also help prison management be more proactive in passing relevant information on to police or social services, for example. Much of this intelligence may be positive – capturing and propagating details of successfully completed rehabilitation programmes, for example.

Part of the duty of care, though, is also to use systems to pinpoint issues with prisoners that might otherwise have been hidden. If a prisoner is eligible for parole, and wants a positive report on his or her conduct to go to the parole board, technology can be used to pinpoint where that prisoner has committed misdemeanors by, for example, getting other inmates to commit offences for him in prison. This information can be made available to the parole board which would assist them in their deliberations.

Part of the Wider Community

The current emphasis within prisons on rehabilitating prisoners and preventing them from reoffending is the most high profile way in which the authorities are seeking to change the prison experience to ensure that when they leave prison, inmates focus on making a positive contribution to the wider community.

As this article, has demonstrated, intelligence management technology is today playing an equally critical role in helping the prison authorities contribute positively not only to internal prison management but also to the impact prisons have on the wider community, helping to ensure that prisoners are as well prepared as possible to return to the outside world when they are released while at the same time fulfilling their responsibility to protect the public.

Gordon Harrison is Industry Consultant with Public Security, SAS