Expert Insights on Modernising Correctional Services

Read this edition’s article delving into changing societal perspectives, technological advancements, environmental challenges, and other evolving factors are driving significant transformation in corrections.

To be sustainable and effective, any modernisation initiative needs to ensure the inclusion of persons deprived of liberty or those with lived experience from the onset.

Terry Hackett, Head of the Persons Deprived of Liberty Division, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

Terry Hackett

Head of the Persons Deprived of Liberty Division, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
The modernisation of prison infrastructure and technology must be a priority for all. But there may also be a need to go back to basics at the same time. Ensuring humane treatment, decent living conditions and equal access to services would be also a form of modernisation in many prison systems.
 
At the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) we speak from experience. During 2564 visits to 865 places of detention in over 75 countries conducted in 2023, our teams saw the consequences of severe overcrowding, inhumane treatment and poor living conditions for persons deprived of liberty.
 
According to World Prison Brief, the global prison population grew at an alarming rate of 24% over the past two decades, resulting in 59% of prison systems exceeding capacity. For prison modernisation efforts to succeed, the number of people detained must be reduced substantially.
 
Recognising that the building of new prisons should be a last resort, the ICRC’s “Towards Humane Prisons” recommends a “principled and participatory approach to prison planning and design” be applied when new infrastructure is envisioned. Commitments to ‘do no harm’, maintain a maximum of normality, promote health and personal growth, and maintain strong connections to society must be the cornerstone of any planning and design modernisation programme.
 
Similar principles should also apply to the modernisation of technological and digital solutions while ensuring strong legal and ethical safeguards to protect persons deprived of liberty. Decision makers must be acutely aware that technology and especially AI is not being applied to a clean slate.
 

Rather the interplay between technology and existing systems, power imbalances, and other social constructs within a place of detention need to be assessed to mitigate any potential compounding impacts on the rights or dignity of detainees.

This includes proactive assessments of risks associated with design and data-related bias, the black box of machine learning and challenges related to traceability of decision making, transparency and redress. Furthermore, technology must not be seen as the panacea to staffing shortages. Any modernisation must be built on the foundation of meaningful human interaction.

To be sustainable and effective, any modernisation initiative needs to ensure the inclusion of persons deprived of liberty or those with lived experience from the onset. This ensures a critical understanding of the potential impacts on the dignity and humanity of those detained.

Openness to the experience of others is also critical to a modern prison system and an important counter to doing things a certain way because they have always been done that way.

Larissa Strong, Commissioner of Corrections Victoria, Australia

Larissa Strong

Commissioner of Corrections Victoria, Australia
I genuinely believe that a dedicated and professional workforce is the most important key to a modern corrections system that contributes to community safety.
 

In addition to our focus on prison officer training and professional development, Corrections Victoria has also invested in its own clinical arm – Forensic Intervention Services – to deliver offence-specific interventions and to grow our expertise in how to best support behaviour change. However, a modern prison system also needs to use technology appropriately – as we have discussed.

Infrastructure is also a critical enabler. Corrections Victoria has been very fortunate in the Victorian Government’s investment in modern facilities. This investment includes architecture that has in-built features in its design that support safety and rehabilitation.

Our new accommodation units house plenty of programme and interview rooms, where acoustics and fittings have been designed to support engagement. Last year we opened new accommodation at our main women’s prison, which incorporated design feedback from the women in custody.

Openness to the experience of others is also critical to a modern prison system and an important counter to doing things a certain way because they have always been done that way.

Corrections Victoria is just one of the few jurisdictions outside of the United States to be operating the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program Think Tanks. These Think Tanks support people in custody to work collaboratively with university students and allow us to better include the voices of people with lived experience to continually improve our system.

Under our ten-year Safer, Prisons, Safer People, Safer Communities reform agenda we are also formalising structures to harness the expertise and perspective of our workforce – supporting the development of policies and programmes that will make a difference and their implementation on the ground.

Technology is being used in more sophisticated ways providing more case-management flexibility and enhanced effectiveness in compliance management and intervention.

Peter Severin, President of the International Corrections and Prisons Association (ICPA)

Peter Severin

President of the International Corrections and Prisons Association (ICPA)
Contemporary corrections is increasingly more focussed on a holistic approach to offender management and intervention, supported and enabled by modern infrastructure and technology.
 
Trauma informed care is augmenting the traditional Risk and Responsivity based interventions, and place is important to create an environment where desistance becomes a learned experience rather than just a cognitive learning. It is important to understand that previous approaches remain sound as long as they are evidence based but are consistently enhanced and evaluated to ensure effectiveness and continuous learning.
 
Corrections professionals are working more integrated and across disciplines which results in greater innovation and overall better opportunities for offenders to engage. Staff support and resilience play an important role in creating a more professional environment.
 
Roles are enhanced and staff have more responsibilities through multidisciplinary team structures and better training and support. Correctional officers are people managers and provided with the skills and abilities to be effective in their roles.
 
Prison design focusses on creating environments where change is supported through design solutions allowing to live the learned experiences rather than separate programming interventions and learnings from the accommodation where offenders spend most of their time.
 
Technology is applied in smart ways to support learning but also to enhance communication with families and others and provide offenders with a more intense and thorough opportunity to prepare for release and reintegration into the community.
 
Community-based offender supervision continues to be strengthened with an increasing involvement of non-government agencies and trained volunteers providing wrap-around services and supports for offenders. Technology is being used in more sophisticated ways providing more case-management flexibility and enhanced effectiveness in compliance management and intervention.
 

It is exciting to be part of the innovations in prisons and probation for increased desistance and a reduction in re-offending.

CEP strongly advocates that we do not use technology just because we have it, but to use it smartly in order to make our work and skills better.

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

Jana Špero

Secretary General, Confederation of European Probation (CEP)
Nowadays, modernisation in probation settings is perceived as moving forward with the use of technology. Confederation of European Probation recognises the importance of technology in probation.
 
The CEP Expert Group on Technology was created in March 2017 with the specific aim of improving co-ordination and co-operation between CEP members regarding the wide spectre of ongoing technological innovation projects in probation. The importance of this group was particurlarily significant during and after COVID time.
 
Modern technology has penetrated probation services all around the Europe in different ways: by using apps for office work and offenders, by having local, national and international on-line meetings, by having virtual offices and digitalised documentation and in digital cooperation with other stakeholders in criminal justice.
 
Taking this into account, the CEP expert group has been working on practice recommendations regarding technologies in probation. These recommendations will support jurisdictions in reflecting on issues before developing and using technology, undergoing digitalisation or considering hybrid working models. It will be presented during the CEP Webinar on Technology on 19 September 2024.
 
In addition to technology use in the everyday work of probation staff and management (both for office purpose and for work with offenders), we cannot forget importance of modernisation regarding the recruitment and training of probation staff.
 

This includes new approaches in attracting new generations to work in probation services and using new technologies in basic and life-long learning processes. We need to adjust and prepare trainings using VR and AI, mobile versions of trainings and short interactive exercises.

During the 6th World Congress on Probation and Parole, held in The Hague, The Netherlands, 16-18 April 2024, it was higlighted that technology needs to be assisting and supporting probation workers and not replacing them.
 

CEP strongly advocates that we do not use technology just because we have it, but to use it smartly in order to make our work and skills better.

While I believe that the physical environment is only part of the complex care needed by prisoners, its design and layout have a significant impact on people's behaviour.

Ivaylo Yordanov, Chief Commissioner, General Directorate "Execution of Sentences" (GDES), Bulgaria

Ivaylo Yordanov

Chief Commissioner, General Directorate “Execution of Sentences” (GDES), Bulgaria

The improvement and modernisation of the system for the execution of sentences in Bulgaria continue to be an important priority for the Ministry of Justice and GDES.

We are focused on innovations and modern solutions to make our system a model for the management of a public institution that plays a very important role in the protection and development of our society.

One of our future initiatives is to pilot the introduction of ‘green prisons’, thereby reducing environmental impact, improving resource efficiency and integrating nature into our infrastructure and processes.

While I believe that the physical environment is only part of the complex care needed by prisoners, its design and layout have a significant impact on people’s behaviour. Incorporating elements such as nature, greenery, colours, and light can improve inmates’ health, stress levels and aggression.

This initiative will also provide incarcerated individuals with the opportunity to gain further qualifications in the green technology and manufacturing sector, thereby improving their chances of entering the labour market upon release.

We plan to increase our focus on research to help evaluate the impact of our actions and implement evidence-based solutions.

Last but not least, we will invest in training our staff and young correctional leaders, who, at some point, will take over the future of the prison system in this country.

Linking rehabilitation with environmental responsibility signifies a move towards a more comprehensive understanding of justice.

Taghreed Jaber, Regional Director for Middle East North Africa at Penal Reform International

Taghreed Jaber

Regional Director for Middle East North Africa at Penal Reform International
Prisons are transforming. Modernisation efforts are no longer solely focused on security and rehabilitation but are increasingly tackling broader issues like climate change.
 
This innovative approach intertwines environmental responsibility with rehabilitation, creating a win-win for people detained and wider societies that prisons operate in.
 
Environmental sustainability is taking root behind bars through a variety of programmes from recycling initiatives that divert waste to job training programmes equipping people leaving prison with skills for the booming eco-economy. Solar panels and other renewable energy sources are even finding their way into prison infrastructure in some places, reducing the facilities’ environmental footprint.
 
Such initiatives offer more than just environmental benefits. Studies suggest they can foster a sense of purpose and reduce violence within prisons. Learning to grow food sustainably or install solar panels leaves people who have spent time in prison with marketable skills, boosting chances of finding meaningful employment upon release.
 

Some challenges remain, however. Aligning correctional policies with environmental goals and securing funding requires innovation. Overcoming resistance to change is also crucial.
But the potential rewards are substantial, from reducing recidivism to ‘greening’ prisons.

Linking rehabilitation with environmental responsibility signifies a move towards a more comprehensive understanding of justice.
 

This approach not only prepares prisoners for a future shaped by climate change, but also positions prison systems as active participants in building societal resilience.
Greening the prison system is no longer a fringe concept, but a necessary step towards a more just and sustainable future.

It's essential to integrate technology into training and vocational skills development for the incarcerated population so they can be competitive upon re-entry into society.

Rob Jeffreys, President of the Correctional Leaders Association & Director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, USA

Rob Jeffreys

President of the Correctional Leaders Association & Director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, USA
The pandemic forced us to adapt. We had to move past the fear of potential challenges and instead focus on the opportunities technology presented.
 
There’s still a lot of ground to cover, particularly in integrating workforce technology within correctional facilities. The truth is that in many facilities, we are still counting every inmate with a pencil and a piece of paper! To keep up with today’s workforce, especially the younger generation, we must embrace the technology that’s prevalent in society within prisons.
 
There’s a clear need for modernisation, and I fully support it. We need to be proactive and willing to take calculated risks, embracing new technologies. It’s essential to integrate technology into training and vocational skills development for the incarcerated population so they can be competitive upon re-entry into society.
 
Our digital programming platform, for instance, is incredibly innovative. It streamlines programming and interaction, allowing teachers and counsellors to create case plans tailored to individual needs via a tablet. Being able to have one teacher broadcast to the rest of the agency is extremely useful at a moment when we’re short of educational professionals.
 

The ability to connect individuals with community resources through video conferencing, even if they’re housed hours away from their community, ensures a smoother transition back into society.

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