By Dr Victoria Knight, Associate Professor at De Montfort University, UK
Knowledge is best shared and generated together. It is not just about information. Our meeting of 78 delegates from 22 different European jurisdictions brought together those that deliver, design, support and inquire the digital evolution that is taking place in our prisons not only across Europe, but also beyond. Our meeting in Istanbul provided a much-needed opportunity to fully immerse ourselves within the digital enterprise of our prisons, as well as gratefully relish the company and hospitality of our hosts, General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses. To conclude the workshop our hosts invited us to visit Maltepe Campus Prison and witness first hand their own digital developments.
I have been lucky enough to attend and participate in three of these bi-annual events. But, to be reunited with colleagues and respected peers was a much-needed treat. Whilst digital interactions have been an important lifeline to continue our endeavours during the pandemic, Gustav Tallving, EuroPris’ Director, was absolutely right, that convening together in the same space brings an important energy and vigour to share valuable stories of practice and delivery and secure new connections, networks and ideas. Open dialogues are of huge value to practice development and knowledge generation.
The two-day workshop was densely packed with diverse and thought-provoking contributions. For me at least I observed several changes, new dialogues and ways of speaking about digital within the prison landscape. The evolution of digital has been a pleasure to observe and in this 6th workshop it seems, at least there is, less talk about the promise of digital and what might be – to the careful and sometimes delicate business of delivery.
As Simon Bonk said in his presentation on ‘Modernising Corrections’ with Hakan Klarin,
‘…corrections are different…’
For me this encapsulates an important shift in the way we talk about digital in our penal settings. It IS different and the differences are complex and ubiquitous. There has been significant distance travelled since the first workshops and the pace in which digital is maturing ‘seems’ to be speeding up. But we don’t know for sure. In evaluating and reflecting on the two-day programme I observed four key themes that were a common thread through all the speakers’ presentations:
Business Change- the drivers for maturity and change
Meeting Needs– centring users at the heart of design and delivery
Engagement- methods and approaches for meeting user and business needs
Security- the need for secure systems and sensitive data handling without paralysing progression
My other observations included new and emergent issues that I anticipate will be fruitful developments, dilemmas and essential components to the ongoing dialogue in the future. There is no surprise these new developments in the field of digital prisons are shaped by challenges that we all face in everyday life. These issues demand a multi-disciplinary and multi-practice response. That cross-functional and partnership working is essential.
Topics like sustainability which reflect concerns about energy consumption and the environment and how digital can contribute to Net Zero efforts. Annabelle Sersch and colleagues’ presentation on mobile devices for staff in Switzerland made a valuable point of reducing paper. Equally, Richard Booth and Darryl Jones’ development of augmented reality powerfully reminded me of how much our prisoners have relied on paper-based materials for information and support. Moreover, Fatih Güngör, explained how important technology is assisting in the use of renewables in Turkish prisons and their recognition that this is a moral obligation of our prison services.
There was also much discussion on pace and speed not only as result of the pandemic but the ways in which services are responding either slowly or even quickly. Dr Noemi Bory’s presentation on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the urgency in which penal systems needed to respond to justice. In contrast, Steven Van De Steene and I, with Dr Bianca Reisdorf’s work highlighted how services embark on the maturity journey with some delivering solutions at a fast pace and others at a much slower. I’d like to challenge readers to reflect on the importance of pace- is this really important?
One area of challenge for many jurisdictions is legislation to support and legitimise delivery of digital solutions. In a landscape littered with legislative requirements and the need to nurture human privacy and protect human rights, there is pressing need for a deep dive into legal aspects of digitization. Some jurisdictions have already made policy and legislative changes to support digital maturity. For example, Pia Puolakka and Juho Nurmi’s presentation on the ‘Smart Prison’ in Finland outlines how policy and legislative changes can assist in digital development and meet the needs of its people and service. More tailored thinking on legislation is required. This is also pertinent to responding to change and also during crisis. Conversations with Terry Hackett from The Red Cross highlighted, at least for me, the need to understand our prisons not only in times of peace but also conflict.
The plenary on Artificial Intelligence highlighted the important feature of privacy. A drive to map users’ behaviours and even their thoughts and desires is a very tempting prospect for services. And rightly this is fraught with anxiety about such enterprises. An emergent theme, is that of movement– the aspirations to increase the movement of people in prison to enhance both efficiency whilst maintaining security and public confidence. Many of these debates could be borrowed from the work on electronic monitoring. There is a necessity to eclipse this knowledge with developments in this area, rather than reinventing the wheel I urge developers and practitioners to draw on expertise to explore this extensive bank of knowledge.
Notions of working WITH end users of technology has gained traction. Something I both applaud and consider vital to digital maturity. This is an approach vivid in the Swedish Prison and Probation Service which ultimately aim to normalise digital interactions and transition. Models of co-production are serving business and human needs ensuring that people are centred in design rather than hard outcomes like punishment. Turkey’s BLEEP consortium described by Mustafa Ginesar and colleagues highlighted how blended learning can extend both reach of provision but also motivate learners and encourage self-determination. They importantly highlighted the need for evaluation and in-depth research. Finally, it seems that there has been a curious departure from talk of control, containment or punishment during the workshop. Our digital prisons and the knowledge consequently generated has sat, sometimes uncomfortably, in the criminological landscape. An understandable starting point. However, our European experts are thinking of and developing technology with models of health, inclusivity and social justice in mind. This does not deny that technology has a significant negative impact, if not adopted carefully and ethically. At this moment in fact new perspectives are helping practitioners centre human needs in their planning and delivery and avoid pitfalls leading to exploitative and harmful outcomes. Services can support human flourishing without framing the solution based merely on risk and punishment. Designing in rehabilitative and desistance pathways is now underway.
Please see the workshop’s presentations and agenda are on the event page here.