Digital Transformation of Justice: Experts from various parts of the world share their opinions

Read this edition’s article introducing the four key pillars that must be considered in the Digital journey of correctional organisations.

If we want to move forward and improve corrections there needs to be a coordinated effort with a clear strategy and vision.

Simon Bonk, Chair of the Technology Solutions Network, ICPA

Simon Bonk

Chair of the Technology Solutions Network, ICPA
Technology implementation is probably a lesser component of the challenges and opportunities that come with the digital transformation of corrections.
 
I believe that solutions can be imported from other sectors, such as smart cities and the health industry, and then modified to fit the needs of corrections. The technology exists, it’s the opportunity/problem identification coupled with the measured implementation and change management approaches that are the bigger challenge.
 

Only about a third of digital transformation efforts are actually successful, because of a lack of effective change management.

The reality is that if we want to move forward and improve corrections there needs to be a coordinated effort with a clear strategy and vision. While there have been some efforts made in the past, they have been disparate and not well-coordinated. There are a lot of great one-off initiatives, but they lack coordination and can result in efforts running at cross purposes.

The development of technology cannot be in the hands of engineers alone. It must also involve legal actors, because technology is increasingly interfering with people's rights.

Ricardo Pérez Manrique, Judge, President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Ricardo Pérez Manrique

Judge, President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
We live in an exciting time, but it is also a time of enormous challenges. The development of technology cannot be in the hands of engineers alone. It must also involve legal actors, because technology is increasingly interfering with people’s rights.

When we see that, for example, people born after 1995 are considered to have no privacy because all their relevant data is in the hands of third parties, we face problems that affect people’s rights.
 
The I/A Court H.R. is very attentive to this issue so that we are even thinking of initiating official discussions, with workshops on artificial intelligence, even though we have not had any cases yet. It is a situation that should keep all of us in the Court very attentive.
 
We need to be alert to these risks, and create mechanisms that seek, first of all through warning and prevention, to avoid using these resources in a way that harms people’s rights.

Victim Notifications, Offender Management Systems, and Medical Technology were topics at the forefront of discussion 20 ago, and continue to be relevant topics today.

Zacc Allen, President of the Corrections Technology Association, USA

Zacc Allen

President of the Corrections Technology Association, USA
Corrections has historically been underfunded and can experience recruiting challenges for technical professionals. Let’s face it, Corrections is not a sexy industry like Google, Meta or Amazon, but I would argue that once you begin a career in corrections the diversity of the technology portfolio draws you in and keeps your interest. However, I feel that we are always playing a game of catch up and the need for technology often outpaces our ability to deliver.
 
The CTA, through its information-sharing and collaboration efforts, creates a network to engage with peers. If you’re facing an issue or looking into new technologies, I guarantee you one of your peers is facing a similar situation or has already addressed the topic. The CTA began in 1999 and our first summit was held in Seattle, Washington in 2000.
 
Since that was well before I became a correctional professional, I looked through our archives and came across the program from that first summit: Victim Notifications, Offender Management Systems, and Medical Technology were topics at the forefront of discussion back then, and continue to be relevant topics today.

Overall, the corrections sector has been resistant to adopting new technology for a long time. In the United States, It seems that if something was done a certain way 100 years ago, it's still being done that way today.

Bryan Stirling, Director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, USA

Bryan Stirling

Director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, USA
Some of the challenges to the implementation are related to funding, as technologies require significant investment. This means that we have to convince our legislators to allocate the necessary resources to make it happen.

Additionally, the process of change itself involves a number of complex tasks in themselves. This includes infrastructure changes needed, for example, to run electricity or the challenge of integrating new systems with existing ones.

Introducing new technology can require adjusting to changes in processes such as inputting information in electronic records, so we need to ensure that staff are comfortable using the new tools. It is also important to identify the right vendors who can provide the necessary expertise and support to implement the technologies effectively.

Overall, the corrections sector has been resistant to adopting new technology for a long time. It seems that in the United States, if something was done a certain way 100 years ago, it’s still being done that way today.

As Chair of the Technology Committee of the Correctional Leaders Association, I’ve been encouraging my colleagues to think differently and utilise the technology that’s available to increase our impact. I believe we can use technology as a force multiplier and achieve more with less effort.

We have to be careful not to use technology just because it is there. We have to find a good balance and decide what is the best option for different situations.

Jana Špero, Secretary General, Confederation of European Probation (CEP)

Jana Špero

Secretary General, Confederation of European Probation (CEP)

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how crucial technology is today for all of us, which is also true for probation. We are all witnesses of how supervision benefited from technologies during the lockdown, and there is no turning back.

However, we still need to critically evaluate the results of using technology, because the essence of probation work is the relationship between people and personal human engagement.

Electronic monitoring and other technologies are already developed and used in probation services across Europe. In some countries, the spread and democratisation of this technology can help choose alternative measures to detention. But for the CEP, it is important to underline that using technology in probation must be purposeful, proportionate, and consistent with probation values.

We have to be careful not to use technology just because it is there. We have to find a good balance and decide what is the best option for different situations. If used properly, technology can be a great support for probation staff and for offenders, and a real advantage in their work and rehabilitation/reintegration process, respectively.

Going forward, we are going to see many new technologies and smarter ways of using them.

Håkan Klarin, Chief Information Officer of the Swedish Prison and Probation Service

Håkan Klarin

Chief Information Officer of the Swedish Prison and Probation Service
We are standing on the threshold of a new movement of introducing technology and digitisation from the inmates’ perspective.
 
Digital services within the prison context are currently used on a global scale, and you can already see good examples of their applications. But they’re only used with limited application.
 
Going forward, we are going to see a lot of new technologies, and smarter ways of using them. This will also lead to the introduction of AI whether we like it or not, because many of the underlying technologies are using machine learning and related technologies.
 

It’s vital for us to have regulations and recommendations that outline what should and should not be done, and also serve as a guide for practitioners and vendors to learn how digital technologies and AI could be used in the justice sector.

Digital technologies can assist the correctional setting as a vehicle which provides humans with more opportunities to flourish.

Dr Victoria Knight, Associate Professor of Research at De Montfort University, UK

Dra. Victoria Knight

Associate Professor of Research at De Montfort University, UK
For the last 23 years, I have been lucky enough to observe the unfolding story of digital transformation in prisons across the globe. The pace and intensity of digitalisation has ebbed and flowed, sometimes fraught with anxiety, nervousness and trepidation. Failures, false starts and promises are plentiful. But this is part of the story because humans and technology have an uneasy relationship. This will always be the case. Equally, failure is necessary to help us focus on what needs to change.
 
After two decades, my view sits firmly in the idea that digital technologies can assist the correctional setting. Not to assist in increasing punishment or pain or to be used as an all-encompassing iron fist where penal power amplifies discrimination, stigma and exploitation. But as a vehicle which provides humans with more opportunities to flourish.
 

The digital prison family have been my closest critics and together we are proposing that digital solutions in corrections lead to desistance. Digitalisation is an opportunity to recover, build positive human relationships, belong to nurturing communities and engage in decision making. These ideas are founded on collective efforts from researchers and practitioners where together we have laid down evidence-based suggestions to ensure the business of digital aligns to powerful journeys into desistance.

Our focus then, aptly named “The Digital Desistance Manifesto” (forthcoming) ends by suggesting the digitization of our penal settings could:

• Centre individual needs and aspirations to enable personal goal setting;
• Eradicate gaps of disadvantage;
• Maintain a minimum standard of digital competencies;
• Value opportunities to engage in human relationships and networks;
• Broker safe relationship and network opportunities;
• Support the adoption of egalitarian practices to co-produce solutions;
• Provide opportunities to record and observe personal change;
• Celebrate compassionate transformation;
• Set up partnerships where the digital enhances participation;
• Create digital online spaces where prosocial communities can flourish;
• Be rewarded for civic participation;
• Witness desistance journeys of others;
• Co-produce mass communicated messages of lived experiences;
• Create an informed curriculum to boost knowledge of justice;
• Include diverse voices; and
• Raise expectations for digital literacy.

It is important to try educating the public about how inmates should not be denied access to technological tools. Instead, access to technology must be viewed as means to their rehabilitation.

George Jackson, ICT Advisor, former CIO of the Irish Prison Service

George Jackson

ICT Advisor, former CIO of the Irish Prison Service
While there has been much progress in digital transformation in prisons recently, there are still many challenges within the penal environment. These include – but are not limited to – the cost to the prisons, the cost to the inmates, security, the concern to preserve face-to-face contact between inmates and prison staff, digital literacy among inmates and staff, training for inmates and staff, as well as public opinion.
 
I would argue that the opportunities and the benefits of digital transformation can not only overcome these challenges for the betterment of the inmates and staff but also that, once recognised, each of these challenges can be mitigated.
 
Regarding the cost to the prisons, a detailed cost-benefit analysis can demonstrate the benefits of digital transformation to management and staff. It also can provide reassurance to management that the project is worth the investment.
 
In the instances where the use of the technology is charged to the user, then a detailed exercise should be undertaken to ensure that the chosen solution will both pay for itself and be fair to the inmates, as well as their families in terms of the cost to utilise the system.
 
Then, there’s the concern about maintaining a balance between the security of the institutions and the need to allow the inmates and staff to experience the benefits of digital transformation. If correctly planned and if all parties are consulted in developing the solution, then it is possible to achieve both goals.
 
Face-to-face contact between inmates and prison staff is essential, and so digitalisation should never be used to reduce or remove that kind of interaction. If handled correctly, digitalisation should do the opposite, by freeing up the officers’ time to increase face-to-face contact, not reduce it.
 
Digital literacy among inmates, and training in digital skills for inmates and staff go hand in hand. It is vital that both staff and inmates understand and know how to utilise any new technology that is rolled out to the prisons.
 

Finally, it is important to try educating the public about how deprivation of liberty is the punishment and that inmates should not be denied access to technological tools while in prison. Instead, access to technology must be viewed as means to their rehabilitation.

Technology can be very helpful to enhance and improve our work, but we need to be careful to see it as an extension and not a replacement of human work.

Steven Van De Steene, Enterprise architect and Corrections technology consultant

Steven Van De Steene

Enterprise architect and Corrections technology consultant
A lot of misunderstanding about technology is often related to how terminology and buzzwords start to be used out of context, becoming mainstream and setting expectations. I believe this happens often with the concept of digital transformation where the emphasis is put more on digital than on the transformational aspect of it.
 
Digital transformation, however, should not be about using more technology just for the sake of it. This is a process that should include questions on where technology could help us do things better. As such, it implicates the question of how we can do things better.
 
In most of our jurisdictions there is much space for improving prison conditions, reshaping and normalising prison environments, and strengthening our care and rehabilitation efforts. While doing so it is valuable to take a look at how technology could help, and I believe, it is even our moral obligation to reflect on how we can prepare individuals for the new normal outside, which has become digital.
 
However, to become really transformational, we should also include in this journey reflections on the value that our analogue work still brings. Face to face contacts, conversations and social activities are very important in the stressful and fragile prison setting. Technology can be very helpful to enhance and improve our work, but we need to be careful to see it as an extension and not a replacement of human work.
 
If we are not careful with this, I believe we will need to start talking about analogue transformation projects in the near future.
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