- Will the use of artificial intelligence in prisons become the new normal?
- Solving the challenge of ‘blind spots’ in prisons
- Facial recognition technology protects visitors of correctional facilities
- Some say incarceration doesn’t work. Will virtual punishment do a better job?
As technology continues to evolve and permeate every aspect of our lives, it is unsurprising that it is also making its way into the prison system. The emergence of the ‘smart prison’ is a fascinating development that promises to transform the way we think about incarceration and rehabilitation. With the help of cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, facial recognition technology, RFID, biometrics, virtual reality, and more, prisons can become smarter, safer, and more effective than ever. One of the key benefits of smart prisons is that they are better equipped to prevent crime and maintain security. Facial recognition technology and biometric sensors, for instance, can be used to ensure that only authorised individuals are allowed access to certain areas of the prison, reducing the risk of escape or unauthorised entry. In addition to enhancing security, smart prisons are also focused on rehabilitation and improving the lives of inmates. Virtual reality technology can offer alternatives for real incarceration and provide training and therapy programmes. While there are certainly challenges and ethical concerns associated with the use of smart prison technology, it is clear that this emerging trend has the potential to revolutionise the criminal justice system and improve outcomes for everyone involved.
Will the use of artificial intelligence in prisons become the new normal?
The rise of AI in prisons has sparked both excitement and controversy. While the benefits of using AI to manage prisons are numerous, there are also concerns about the potential consequences of relying on such technology to make decisions about the lives of inmates. Slowly but surely, however, the use of AI in prisons seems to become the norm, rather than some far-fetched future scenario. One of the main advantages of using AI in prisons is increased efficiency and cost-effectiveness. By automating many of the routine tasks involved in prison management, such as inmate monitoring and record-keeping, prisons can reduce the workload for human staff and lower their operating costs. Additionally, AI-powered predictive analytics can help to identify potential security threats and predict inmate behaviour, allowing authorities to take proactive measures to prevent incidents from occurring.
AI can also play a significant role in inmate rehabilitation. Personalised education and training programmes, powered by AI- software, can help inmates develop new skills and prepare for their eventual release back into society. By tracking inmate progress and identifying areas where additional support may be needed, AI can also help tailor rehabilitation plans to each individual inmate’s needs. However, the use of AI in prisons also raises ethical concerns. One of the main ones is the potential for bias in AI algorithms. If these algorithms are trained on biased data, they may perpetuate existing biases and inequalities in the prison system. This could result in unfair treatment of certain inmates or groups of inmates. Additionally, there is a risk of privacy violations as AI technology can collect and analyse vast amounts of data on inmates. As Samantha Floreani, programme lead at Digital Rights Watch, explains: “People in prison, and those who visit them, shouldn’t be subject to invasive surveillance technology, such as facial recognition. What’s more, we would be extremely foolish to believe that technologies used in a carceral context won’t be rolled out more broadly as they become normalised.”
“Too often, bad things happen on camera that go unnoticed in real-time. Officers or inmates are assaulted in plain view and response times are often delayed. When we bring together all relevant operational data and monitoring systems, we increase the awareness and reduce both the number and severity of incidents.”Greg Piper, Guardian RFID
Solving the challenge of ‘blind spots’ in prisons
An example of the use of AI is the newly launched ‘Command Cloud’ by Minnesota-based company Guardian RFID. The firm specialises in correctional facility technology and its cloud product consists of a number of applications and products. By unifying data from multiple sources — making use of AI and machine learning, high-tech cameras, radio frequency identification (RFID), face biometrics, and cloud computing — the platform helps to optimise situational awareness, improve insight, discoverability, and collaboration in correctional facilities. Command Cloud offers solutions for ‘blind spots’ in prisons and helps eradicate problems like prison escapes, attacks on correctional officers, missing equipment, and inmates accessing restricted areas. The platform can detect human motion and identify each individual through facial recognition in order to determine each person’s whereabouts and ensure that everyone is in his or her designated location.
Greg Piper, director of Academy at Guardian RFID, explains: “Too often, bad things happen on camera that go unnoticed in real time. Officers or inmates are assaulted in plain view but without an elevated level of situational awareness, response times are delayed. When we bring together all relevant operational data and monitoring systems, we increase the awareness, provide the right context and can work toward reducing both the number and severity of incidents.” Additionally, Command Cloud can streamline administrative tasks such as inventory management and maintenance scheduling, reducing the workload of staff and improving overall efficiency. The platform can also assist with the rehabilitation of inmates by tracking their behavioural patterns. This data can be used to identify opportunities for intervention and support programmes that can help reduce recidivism.
Facial recognition technology protects visitors of correctional facilities
It’s not just inmates and staff members who need protection, but visitors entering and exiting correctional facilities need to be able to do so safely as well. In Australia, the New South Wales (NSW) government, in partnership with US IT firm Unisys, is investing $12.8 million to deploy facial recognition technology in all of the state’s 16 correctional facilities. Backlash over its use has attracted the attention of watchdogs around the world, as it means that inmates will be forced to hand over their biometric data to ‘provide more safety’ to visitors.
The technology also enables the cutting of operational costs, making the state’s prisons system more profitable. This biometrics system, consisting of multimodal contactless scanners — which simultaneously capture and process face and iris biometrics — will replace existing identification systems that relied on touch devices. The spokesperson of the Corrective Services NSW explains: “The replacement biometrics system will allow for faster processing at all stages of the identification process. This will provide a better experience for all people as they enter and exit correctional centres and will support the safety and security of those individuals”. When asked for clarification on whether the biometric system performs one-to-many or one-to-one identity verification, the spokesperson declined to comment, citing safety and security considerations.
Some say incarceration doesn’t work. Will virtual punishment do a better job?
There’s ongoing debate on whether or not physical incarceration has the desired impact on prisoner rehabilitation. One thing is for sure, however, and that is that physical jails are among some of the most wasteful institutions in the world. And not only in financial terms. Did you know that housing an inmate in the UK amounts to roughly $100,000 per year? And then we haven’t yet mentioned the potential that’s wasted. Developing life skills or improving yourself is not easy when you’re living in confinement, where you are continually reminded of your failures, and forced to spend time with some of the world’s most unpleasant and antisocial characters. Another way physical incarceration is wasteful is in terms of crime reduction opportunities. Funding could be put to much better use, making rehabilitation (and prevention) much more (cost) effective. Think predictive or smart policing, or early intervention and support when it comes to trauma, neglect, and abuse.
One potential alternative is virtual reality (VR). For instance, VR could be used for prisoners to spend a number of hours in VR solitude (using a headset), replicating the privation of prison. This serious level of restriction would be felt all the more severely by the prisoner when being around people who go freely about their day. The use of VR would also reduce the risk of physical harm to inmates as well as prison guards. Furthermore, at only $11 per day, virtual ‘incarceration’ (using GPS tags) will cost much less than housing an inmate in a physical correctional facility. VR could also provide a multitude of options to facilitate remote learning or therapy or rehabilitation sessions, for instance. The fact that the use of these technologies would enable prisoners to retain pro-social connections, such as contact with their friends and family, or keeping a job, is expected to have a positive impact on rehabilitation and decrease reoffending. However, while virtual reality may offer these and other benefits, it is uncertain whether this technology could adequately replace the social and psychological consequences of real-life imprisonment.
The emergence of the smart prison promises to revolutionise the criminal justice system and improve outcomes for everyone involved. With the help of cutting-edge technologies like AI, big data analytics, facial recognition technology, RFID, biometrics, and virtual reality, prisons are becoming smarter, safer, and more effective than ever before. The use of smart technologies in prisons increases efficiency and cost-effectiveness, while also playing a significant role in inmate rehabilitation. While the benefits of using these technologies — and specifically, AI — in prison management are numerous, their use also raises ethical concerns, such as privacy violations and the potential for bias in algorithms. It is, therefore, important to address these concerns and ensure that these technologies are used fairly and responsibly.