How technology can support 21st-century prison systems


Francis Toye

Following the general demographic trend in developed countries, the prison population is ageing. Combine ageing with the generally poorer health of the prison population and the increasing availability of new drugs to help treat long-term conditions, and we find that there is a dramatic increase in the need for medication in prison.

Medication is administered to inmates in two ways: “in-possession” medications which are available for prisoners to keep in their cell following a risk assessment; and “not in possession” medication for drugs that are considered tradable or for vulnerable prisoners that do not meet the criteria to have medication in their possession.

The process of collecting these drugs could take over an hour, depriving inmates of precious time out of their cells.

Piloting an innovative solution: Medication Distribution Lockers

At the UK exhibition “Modernising Justice” in July 2022, Unilink Software, Traka, Serco and the Practice Plus Group worked together to talk about an award-winning application of technology that is really helping prisons: Medication Distribution Lockers (MDL), presented by Serco.

The concept is simple: make available to prisoners a way to collect their medication accurately, auditably and without queuing or taking up the time of medical professionals.

This concept has now been implemented in about twenty UK prison establishments, and the partnership is about to start exporting this brilliant new concept to Europe, Australia and North America.

How hard was it to implement? Serco approached Medication Distribution Lockers as a challenging change project, taking steps to analyse the existing status of med distribution, surveying prisoners, and considering the issues for health providers.

The project development included training, planning for process changes, devising the number of lockers, compartment size and placement around the prison.

MDL: An award-winning concept with whopping satisfaction results

Using pre- and post-installation surveys, the trials were found to be very satisfactory: 92% of respondents were optimistic about the experience of using the lockers, and 80% of respondents thought the lockers were easy to use.

Considering that, before the lockers, it could take an hour from unlock time to receiving the medication due to queuing, the prisoners’ comments are very encouraging:

– “Love the fact that I get a message letting me know my medication is ready to be collected.”
– “The best thing I have seen in a prison, and I have been in a lot of prisons.”
– “I don’t have to queue for ages and find out I have nothing to collect.”
– “Brilliant – makes my life less stressful.”
– “I don’t have to work out whether to work out or use my recreation to get my meds; now I can do both.”

Such was the impact of this innovative new product that it won two Patient Experience Network Awards (PENA) for “Using Insight for Improvement”, and “Partnership Working to Improve Experience”. MDL were also a runner-up in “Innovative Use of Tech”.

Initial trials focused on the simpler “in possession” medication. Because the concept has proved so successful, the partnership between Traka and Unilink is now working with a US healthcare provider to implement a trial including “not in possession” meds for the first time.


Unilink would like to acknowledge the assistance of Serco and Traka in the production of this article. For more details, visit

Francis Toye is Unilink's Founder and CEO

Francis Toye

Francis Toye is Unilink’s Founder and CEO.

Helping Prisons and Probation Work: For Offenders, for Staff, for Society.

Unilink specialises in innovative solutions for criminal justice sectors around the world. Unilink’s reputation has been built on over twenty years’ experience in case management systems for probation, custodial management systems, biometric applications, offender self-service and communications. All Unilink’s solutions are created with the direct input of industry professionals and learnings from the 200+ establishments that use a Unilink product.
Independent research from the University of York shows that Unilink’s self-service software contributes significantly towards rehabilitation and running prisons efficiently.
The system is well proved and tested; offenders have carried out over two billion transactions. Unilink’s rich portfolio of proven solutions underpins digital transformation in prison and probation services across the UK, Norway, Austria, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand.
Unilink is a multi-award-winning company winning the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation and “Best Citizen App” and UK Digital Leader overall winner in recent years.


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