prison officer

Prison intelligence: contributions of decision-makers from Belgium, Canada and Argentina

Rudy Van De Voorde

Director General of the Belgian Prison Service

Rudy Voorde

At no other time in the history of the prison system has a phenomenon such as radicalism/extremism created the need for the management of detention institutions to share information at such a speed, in such quantities and with such a possible impact with actors outside the prison system, and more specifically with the intelligence and security services.

The sharing of information about inmates between these services mainly used to be an exercise on the fault line between “nice to know” and “need to know”. With this “new” phenomenon, we have entered the domain of “need to share” at an unprecedented speed.

External criticism (the general public, the media, politicians, etc.) about “failing Justice and Security Services” is usually interspersed with claims that these services do not share enough information. Many of the recommendations put forward in an investigation report by a Belgian Parliamentary Inquiry Committee into the attacks on the country’s national airport and a metro station in Belgium’s capital city, focused on this sharing of information. And, however obvious this may seem, it is in fact far from it.

Whereas one of the core missions of the prison system is to optimally prepare inmates for their return to society, the relationship between the (staff of the) prison organisation and the inmates is a relationship of trust to a certain extent, although the prison service is part of “a system” which inmates regularly rail against. So, the question is how to deal with information from and about inmates whilst continuing down the path towards preparing them for their reintegration and weighing this against an exchange of information that might put inmates at risk of making their (early) return to free society more difficult. 

In other words, penitentiary practice is grappling with the same dilemma as policymakers who, on the one hand, feel the pressure to make every effort to prevent new terrorist attacks, including by exchanging information, whilst on the other hand equally feel the pressure of wanting to maintain respect for the privacy of citizens and, therefore, of shielding certain information about the lives of citizens, detained or otherwise.

Consequently, we will need to (learn how to) intelligently deal with information about inmates. And without pretending to have a conclusive mechanism in mind (conclusive in the sense of a deus ex machina that pretends to regulate the perfect sharing of information), I think it is important to have an eye for potential pitfalls. We will briefly dilate on three of these pitfalls.

Police, intelligence and security services and prisons have a historical remit that is enshrined in law, each with their own objectives, and we would do well to maintain these objectives. To put matters at hand: it is not because the prison system has information that is useful, in the context of police investigations or intelligence work on radical/extremist behavior – which can potentially escalate into violent crime – that the prison system itself becomes an intelligence or police service. We’re referring to the potential conflict of roles we mentioned earlier.

It is not because information is being gathered about an inmate with radical/extremist behaviour that all this information is relevant in that context. It is precisely the amount of information that is expected to be shared that requires us to develop solid instruments and tools to assess the true value and impact of this information.

For the same reason, it is just as important to constantly ask ourselves whether information sharing remains within the limits of the applicable statutory frameworks. After all, lest we forget, the fight against radicalism/extremism is a fight against forces that seek to undermine the principles of our democratic rule of law. By conducting this fight in a way that abandons the principles of our rule of law, we are emboldening these forces to continue their own fight.

Warren Coons

Director General of the Preventive Security and Intelligence Branch, Correctional Service Canada

Warren Coons

The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) is the federal government agency responsible for administering sentences of a term of two years or more, as imposed by the court. In order to do so, CSC manages institutions of various security levels and supervises offenders under conditional release in the community. CSC’s mission is to contribute to public safety by actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens, while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control. This is achieved by focusing on three core responsibilities: care and custody, correctional interventions, and community supervision.

CSC’s Intelligence Program contributes to all core responsibilities. Although the Intelligence Program appears more akin to the care and custody of offenders, as it identifies and assists in managing illegal activities and preventing security incidents, it nonetheless supports interventions and supervision. By contributing to a safe and secure environment, the program supports the establishment of living conditions conducive to the success of offenders actively engaged in their rehabilitation. Intelligence personnel also support the supervision of offenders. Finally, through gathering, analysis, and sharing of intelligence with decision makers and law enforcement partners the program supports all of CSC’s operations.

CSC’s intelligence program utilizes existing tradecraft practices. It is supported by a rigorous governance structure; leverages people and analytics; and uses sound methodology. With this in place, whether through operational or tactical intelligence, the foundation exists for intelligence to be proactive, predictive, and preventative.

Two of CSC’s intelligence priorities are the interdiction of drugs and the management of security threat groups (STGs). Drug interdiction is a priority as drugs and intoxicants pose a security risk to all within the institution. Furthermore, a drug-free environment is essential for offenders to participate in correctional interventions, thereby supporting successful reintegration. One objective in drug interdiction is to utilize data analytics to predict drug incidents and deploy personnel to proactively prevent them.

STGs are a priority as they pose a serious threat to the safety and security of CSC’s operations and compromise the protection of society. Within CSC, there are over 100 STGs and approximately 10% of the offender population has an affiliation to one of these groups. The sheer number of STGs and their fluidity with respect to membership, hierarchy, rivalries and/or alliances, coupled with a penchant for committing acts of violence demonstrates the need for intelligence to focus on mitigating the threat these groups pose.

Traditionally, intelligence personnel have focused on STG management by understanding group dynamics and affiliations that may pose a threat to the safety of the institution. More recently, CSC supplemented this approach by moving to fully understand individual associates and their dynamics. By conducting deep dives into individuals exhibiting a high level of influence within institutions across the country, it is possible to identify their vulnerabilities and minimize the threat they pose to our institutions and communities.

Whether it be through a commodity type approach or an individualized approach, by being proactive in the collection and analysis of operational intelligence, it is possible to better understand and predict behaviours and incidents, in order to develop strategies to prevent or minimize the scourge of drugs and security threat groups in our institutions, thereby enhancing safety and security.

Sam Erry

Deputy Minister of Correctional Services, Ministry of the Solicitor General, Ontario Province, Canada

Sam Erry


Creating the Ontario Corrections Intelligence Programme:
As we all know disenfranchised inmates and offenders are vulnerable to being groomed and initiated into gangs and radical organisations that support criminal activity and terrorism.

On any given day, Ontario’s Correctional Services, part of the Ministry of the Solicitor General, has around 7,500 inmates in custody and more than 40,000 offenders under community supervision.

The ministry is developing a robust framework to collect and analyse information gathered from the front line in order to develop actionable intelligence for use by Correctional Services and justice sector partners in the interest of public safety.

The ministry is primarily focusing on increasing awareness of available intelligence and helping staff understand the strategic role they play toward enhancing safety in provincial correctional services and in communities across Ontario.

The initiative, known as the Ontario Corrections Intelligence Programme, is evolving through a staged approach, starting with developing awareness of information gathering with frontline staff and senior level management. A key component to developing a successful programme will be the more than 8,000 frontline staff collecting information available to them through their daily interactions with inmates and offenders. This information from the front line is compiled, verified, and analysed, before being disseminated as actionable intelligence within Correctional Services and to justice sector partners.

In March 2019, Ontario introduced the “Corrections Intelligence Framework”, adapted from the Intelligence-Led Policing Model used by police services in Canada, the UK and the Unites States.

The framework builds on the intelligence cycle, the process in which information is gathered, analysed and disseminated to key partners to help inform tactical, operational and strategic decisions, while simultaneously supporting public safety priorities and crime mitigation or reduction.

The development of the framework also included the establishment of a dedicated infrastructure to manage the programme, the Ontario Corrections Intelligence Unit.

To strengthen the intelligence programme, Ontario’s Correctional Services partnered with, the Ontario Provincial Police. Police staff are integrated directly into the intelligence unit to work alongside correctional staff. They bring a specialised skillset and practical knowledge to the team, raising the profile of Correctional Services intelligence within the broader intelligence community, and fostering justice sector partnerships.

The Ontario Corrections Intelligence Programme is at the beginning of their journey to build a robust intelligence programme to enhance public safety. Assisted by advancements in technology and strong justice sector partnerships, Ontario envisions becoming a correctional services leader in leveraging intelligence to mitigate threats to safety and security through staff empowerment.

Emiliano Blanco

Director General of the Federal Penitentiary Service, Argentina

Emiliano Blanco

Information analysis is a fundamental tool for a modern and secure penitentiary system. Gathering and recording data in a common format (which can then be correctly structured) is key to organising distinct sources into a unitary vision. The analysis of data can thus be a proactive instrument in risk determination or the evaluation of future scenarios. The analysis of prison information has a clear preventive objective.

It aims to provide “knowledge” in order to anticipate events and allow the authorities to neutralise or dissuade threats and conflicts associated with certain risks. It also allows authorities to understand, with enough foresight, how certain decisions may allow or facilitate the actions of criminal organisations. In this way, management can identify the implications of decisions and implement preventive schemes to avoid involuntarily strengthening organised crime within penitentiary systems.

Criminal intelligence, which also encompasses the sphere of prison intelligence, is aimed towards the fight against the phenomenon of organised crime within the penitentiary space. It encompasses all areas related to the analysis of prison intelligence, within the framework of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules), especially Rule 10. According to the minimum rules for the analysis of penitentiary information, standards must be designed in order to guarantee information and security of both staff and prisoners.

Every group is responsible for following these standards. Thus, the objective analysis of data permits the management and safety (direct or indirect) of the penitentiary system and its members, both within and outside the institution, proactively integrating itself with other public security systems. Furthermore, it must also be kept in mind that a high presence of corruption in prisons generates the risk of self-government, as a consequence of an informal system created by the dissemination of corrupt practices. This risk of self-government grows exponentially when conjoined with organised criminal activity.

Given the complexity of the phenomenon of corruption, there arises a need to address this issue with both a punitive and a preventive approach.

The former aims to investigate and sanction those responsible for the damage caused by an act of corruption. The latter aims to reduce the possibility of corruption, preventing damage occurrence.
In order to be effective, this approach to corruption requires information analysis to detect possible risks of corruption and prevent them. Within the Federal Penitentiary Service of Argentina, the Corruption Prevention Service develops preventive policies and the Department of Internal Affairs receives reports of corrupt acts to investigate and implement the required sanctions. Both receive information from the Main Directorate of Information Analysis.

In this vein, every prison administration needs to have a written framework related to levels of access to information for prison security. The framework gives prisons the necessary guidance in order to maintain high-security standards, avoid escapes and prevent high-risk prisoners from carrying out illegal activities with impact, within or outside the prison.

In this regard, the Service has created the Tactical Analysis Units (UAT). Their aim is to allow the staff who collect information to access the data in a more dynamic way. The collection of information is mainly carried out through the prison staff; they represent the primary source as they are in direct contact with prisoners and they are at the frontline to deal with events as they arise.

This is one of the benefits of “dynamic security”, where staff gather information on everything that happens in their workplace, informing about any unusual event, as well as through their professional relationships with prisoners, based on mutual trust and respect, with the ultimate aim of achieving a secure establishment where uncertainty is replaced by actions closer to certainty.



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