Why are Prisons Slow to Adopt New Digital Technologies? The Challenges and Solutions

Article

Tim Purcell

Correctional administrations are slow to adopt new digital technologies for a variety of reasons, including security concerns, limited budgets, and resistance to change.  

Prisons must prioritise security above all else, and introducing new technologies can potentially compromise this effort if they are not carefully vetted, tested and implemented. For example, allowing prisoners access to the internet or social media could lead to security breaches or communication with the outside world that could compromise the safety of the prison and the public. To address these concerns, prisons can adopt digital technologies that are specifically designed for secure and controlled environments.  

Physical and security considerations must be addressed across several distinct technologies and key operational subjects. Security measures must be put in place to prevent unauthorised access to the network and ensure that prisoners do not use it to engage in illicit activities. Additionally, appropriate policies and procedures must be developed to govern the use of the network, and staff must be trained to use the technology effectively and safely. 

Another challenge lies in the investment. Prisons have limited resources, and digital technologies can be expensive to implement and maintain. To overcome this challenge, prisons can seek partnerships with technology companies or government agencies that offer funding or support for digital initiatives. Additionally, prisons can prioritise the adoption of technologies that offer cost savings over the long term, such as energy-efficient lighting and HVAC systems, or paperless record-keeping systems. 

There are also greater challenges in existing facilities than in a new build prison. In an existing prison, it becomes problematic to introduce new technologies dependent on networking, whether it is cabled or wireless.  

While in a new prison, the network infrastructure is incorporated into the building plan, however retrofitting network infrastructure into an existing, operational prison environment can be complex, expensive and disruptive.  

Resistance to change is another obstacle that prisons face when adopting new digital technologies. Many prison staff and administrators are accustomed to traditional methods and may be resistant to the adaptation process required to work with new tools and implement new procedures. To address this challenge, prisons can provide training and education to staff and prisoners to ensure that they understand the benefits and proper use of the new technologies. Additionally, prisons can involve staff and prisoners in the decision-making process, allowing them to provide input and feedback on the solutions being considered. 

In conclusion, prisons face a range of challenges when adopting new digital technologies, however, several solutions can help prisons overcome these obstacles. Allowing a flow of information between domains and thinking of corrections without segmentation will lead to creating harmonious operations, empowering and skilling staff while creating effective use of time. Lastly, because of not having to deploy duplicate systems, technology systems will be easier to build, maintain, and support. There will also be a reduction in the cost of deployment while creating efficient responses to new challenges.  

By prioritising security, seeking partnerships, and addressing resistance to change through training and education, prisons can take advantage of the benefits of digital technologies while ensuring the safety and security of staff, prisoners, and the public. 

Sir Tim Purcell is Core Systems’ Head of Australasia and has over 30 years of international corporate experience in business management, software development, security systems and operational solutions consulting and implementation. In recent years has been working to deliver prisoner and operational solutions in Australia’s largest prisons. Tim is driven by a focus on improving outcomes for all stakeholders but particularly to achieve outcomes for prisoners during their incarceration and their return to the community to assist in reducing recidivism. His experience in building prisons and working with prison operators gives him a unique set of skills which gives a unique perspective in achieving real outcomes. 

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