18 May 2021

Digitising Prisons and the Probation Service – using location to improve Prison and Probation

Guest blog: Simon Imbert, Esri UK, outlines how using location effectively could improve Prison and Probation as part of our #DigitalJustice2021 week.

How can geography, or the understanding of human factors affect and help reduce reoffending? 

In the UK it is generally accepted that we have an ambitious and innovative Ministry responsible for the Prison and Probation system, however, we also have a sentiment, perhaps media and politician led, that we are ‘soft’ on offending. Possibly as a result of this, we still incarcerate high numbers of offenders and have a relatively high rate of repeat offending – so how is it possible for location intelligence to help us digitise prisons and the probation service, with the goal being to reduce reoffending rates? 

There is no one key factor to reoffending but many commentators agree that key influencers include the way in which prisoners are incarcerated – the conditions; the opportunities to develop new skills and learn/study; the ability to stay in touch with their family whether by actual or virtual visits. The MoJ and HMPPS has a modernising programme which aims to replace 10,000 existing prison places with more up to date conditions that aim to increase the situation for prisoners and prison staff alike.  The use of AI has also been incorporated into the categorisation of offenders. But what about the vast majority of prison places which are not about to be replaced – what is the longer-term plan for these and the establishments within which they fall? 

We would suggest that location can play a role – firstly prisons need to be in reasonably close proximity to the demographics they serve and where prison staff can live. Probation facilities fall into the same category, but with the added incentive to ensure that offenders are released into a location where, if required, there is accommodation and they can hopefully integrate back into family life, find suitable work and be kept away from harm. Those on tag will also need to be monitored with their proximity to certain locations monitored, with the facility to alert based upon time and / or location. So how is all of this data incorporated into a better understanding of the prison or probation service? Using a geographical information system, or simply put ‘the power of location’ you can not only fuse all of these (weighted) factors into a single view, but update, review and manage the facility through the same system. 

This capability applies just as emphatically to existing prisons – making the best use of the facility, managing its performance and providing a safe environment for staff, volunteers and prisoners alike. 

Georgina Henley

Georgina Henley

Head of Justice and Emergency Services, techUK

Georgina Maratheftis

Georgina Maratheftis

Associate Director, Local Public Services, techUK

Raya Tsolova

Programme Manager, National Security, techUK