An inspiring look at the projects and contributions of leaders in the Justice sector

Welcome to the JUSTICE TRENDS // Leader Profile – Interview series, where we bring you the stories and insights of distinguished leaders in Criminal Justice worldwide.

Guest

Oliver Drews

CEO of Telio Group

Oliver Drews is the CEO of Telio Group, where he started as Managing Director and shareholder in 2004.
 
During his almost 20 years as a leader at Telio, the company has grown from five staff members to over 250 people and has become a global market leader in inmate communications, digital services technology, and infrastructure.
 

At the core of the company is the belief that access to communication and information in correctional facilities is not a privilege but a basic need that plays a crucial role in inmates rehabilitation.

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Tell us about the vision that made Telio a European leader in technology for the criminal justice sector.

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Twenty-five years dedicated to supporting prison systems

Oliver Drews: This year we are celebrating our 25th anniversary, and I’ve been with Telio for nearly 20 years now. We were at that time a small start-up with around five employees providing telephony services to inmates in Hamburg. Back then, we were the first in this part of Europe, to deliver specialised systems tailored to the unique needs and requirements of prisons and inmates.

 

I had a clear vision from the start: I wanted Telio to be the leader in modernising the correctional landscape in Europe. And today, we have achieved that goal and more. We now operate in 23 countries, which is unmatched by any other company solely focused on prisons.

We are transforming the lives that we touch with our services and making societies stronger.

 
Of course, there were always internal discussions about whether we could consider expanding our offering to other closed organisations, such as hospitals or hotels.

 

However, I always believed that by staying 100% focused on prisons, we can better understand and cater to the unique processes and challenges facing correctional facilities around the world. Thanks to this focus, today we have been able to expand our operations to Australia and Africa, and we are now entering the North American market.

 

At the same time, we can not forget about Team Telio, the people that allow us to be a pathfinder in our sector. They are the ones who are allowing Telio to make that difference. Working at Telio is more than a job but a calling to making a difference in our communities. I am proud of their professionalism and dedication to our cause. I want to thank them for all that they do. Telio is a family and have worked to realise that vision.

Telio has recently announced a new project for the digitalisation of the first German women’s correction facility. What does this transformation entail and what are its advantages?

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Promoting efficiency and the normalisation principle

OD: This story began in 2006 when a German prison service requested a multimedia solution combining video, TV, radio, and other features.

Nowadays, many prisons in Germany, and around the world, still rely heavily on paper. In terms of day-to-day technologies, what for us is normal in what I call “the free world” is usually not available in prisons. This means that inmates have to live in an outdated environment.
 
The primary goal of a prison, in my opinion, is not punishment, but resocialisation. And to achieve rehabilitation or resocialisation, we need to provide an environment in prison that mirrors “the free world”. We are advancing the notion of normalisation. However, to date, most prisons lack access to the internet, email, or virtually any other digital services.
OD: So, the digital solutions that we are implementing involve telephony, secure email systems and the internet, but it goes beyond that. It’s also about the digitisation of daily processes, including simple things, such as, for example, an e-shop.
 
In most of the prisons I know — and I’ve visited prisons on each continent except Antarctica — the process for inmates to buy commissary goods is not digitised.
 
The current method involves giving the inmate a paper list of products and have them tick the boxes for the items they want to request. Then the prison officer has to bring this paper to the administration, where they might notice that they can’t read what the inmate wrote down.
 

Now they have to take the paper back to the cell, and so on, creating a huge waste of time, due to a completely inefficient process. Digital services make these tasks much more efficient, allowing more time to be dedicated to inmate rehabilitation.

 

From the perspective of taxpayers, in the long run, it’s much cheaper to digitise prisons, since more efficient processes are less expensive.

 

But it is more than that, this digital process begins to reflect our lives outside of prison. We are creating todays reality in the prison and this contributes to their successful reintegration.

 

The other consideration that can not be lost is the positive impact this has on prison staff. We know jurisdictions around the world are struggling to retain and attract new staff. The efficiencies highlighted above allow the staff to move their efforts away from tactical administrative work towards higher value add contributions. It creates greater job satisfaction and creates a more attractive work environment. 

If you want to guarantee rehabilitation or resocialisation of an inmate, you have to mirror the environment of “the free world” in prison.

You’ve recently created the "Connecting Hearts" Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting the children of inmates. What drew your attention to this group and what are their central needs?

Shining a light on an overlooked demographic
OD: I’ve been dedicated to prisons for almost 20 years. In the beginning, I did not think about the children of inmates.
 
The game changer was a visit to a female prison where I saw young children living with their incarcerated mothers. Further research revealed that, in Europe alone, we have 2 million* children of inmates.
 
What does it mean to be the child of an inmate? This has to be crystal clear: when you punish a father or a mother, then you’re punishing their children as well. They undergo significant psychological stress, and they often feel isolated.
 
No kid in the world will talk openly about his mother or father being in prison. They will tell you that they left, or that they are working in South America or somewhere else overseas, far away from home. They feel incredibly lonely.
 

Through the Connecting Hearts Foundation, I want to help projects around the world that support these children.

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When you punish a father or a mother, then you’re punishing their children as well.

What is the foundation trying to achieve for the children of prisoners?

Get to know the organisation trying to make a difference in the lives of children of prisoners.

Discover different ways to support the goals of Connecting Hearts.

What is next for Telio?

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A social responsibility to transform prison
OD: We are committed to continuing our efforts toward the digitisation of prisons. We started with a female prison in Berlin, and we are now in the process of digitalising all prisons in Belgium.
 
This is a very exciting project for Telio, and we hope to extend this initiative worldwide, to digitise many more prisons over the next ten years, with tailor-made solutions that meet each country’s specific requests and needs.
 
Our goal is to support prison administrations, officers, and inmates, by bringing more efficiency to the prisons. This will free up more time to focus on essential things like resocialisation, and good programmes for the inmates, ultimately helping to reduce the recidivism rate.
 
When you work in the prison sector for so many years, you are responsible to bring the right image of prisons to the public.
 

We need to tell the world how important prisons and resocialisation are. It’s our social responsibility to change the image of prisons in the world.

Telio

Inmate Communications

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