08 Dec 2023
by Alexandra Zlatinova

Innovating Justice: A Digital Transformation Journey in the UK's Prison and Probation System

In recent years, the justice sector in the UK has experienced a significant push towards innovation, particularly in the areas of prisons and probation. Embracing technology and digitalization has been a key strategy to bring positive change, enhance efficiency, and improve outcomes for both offenders and the broader community.

Innovation and transformation

Innovation and transformation are not just buzz words; they are now the backbone of the Ministry of Justice Digital Strategy 2025.  Jo Farrar, Second Permanent Secretary, MoJ and CEO, HMPPS, points out that the decision makers within MoJ have seen how digital services have transformed users’ experiences and their journeys profoundly and the Ministry of Justice is determined to keep building on these successes through continued investment in digital and technology services.

Unilink, as a leading supplier of innovative solutions for the criminal justice sector has pioneered solutions that align with MoJ’s strategy.

Goals to replace outdated systems with more flexible, intuitive and effective processes are met by Unilink’s prisoner self-service and offender management software. It enables people in prison to take responsibility for their own administrative tasks, provides secure internet access, education, and multimedia content. This is the system which runs the self-serve kiosks in our prisons and which is increasingly available to people on tablets and laptops with MoJ rolling out the software on in-cell devices to over 11,000 people in prison with more in the pipeline. All new build prisons have in-cell technology, using Unilink’s software.

The power of data

One of the main focuses in the MoJ Digital Strategy 2025 is the power of data, seen as an asset that helps informed decisions and offers measurable outcomes.

Data plays a crucial role particularly in the justice system. The collection, analysis and sharing of data enables the justice system to better understand patterns of crime, improve operational efficiency and make more informed decisions.

The powerful role of data has been used in the development of Unilink’s AIM (Alert. Intervene. Monitor) tool which has been created to potentially help reduce suicide and self-harm in prison. The app uses data, collected vie Unilink’s self-service prisoner software to inform prison officers and governors of patterns and assist them in identifying people at risk. It was developed through in-depth user research to understand prisoners' challenges, integrating empirical insights into its evidence-based functionalities.

AIM derives its power from its ability to analyse the data collected from prisoners' self-service interactions. It takes into account both dynamic factors, such as visits, work, education, phone usage, and purposeful activities, as well as static factors like age and history of self-harm. AIM's configurable traffic light indicators flag deviations in a prisoner's daily routine, with the colour red indicating an immediate need for intervention. This analytical lens provides invaluable insights to prison staff and governors, allowing them to proactively monitor prisoners' well-being and safety.

Another exciting example of innovation that improves efficiency is MyProbation - a mobile app from Unilink for probation users that helps people on probation with their reporting, and link it directly into the agency’s central systems. An exciting trial is underway with MoJ. It makes staying in touch with the Probation Officer easy, empowers the user and improves the communication with the practitioner.

While these innovations hold promise for positive change in the UK's justice sector, it is essential to address potential challenges such as privacy concerns, digital literacy issues, and the risk of reinforcing existing biases in algorithmic decision-making. Continued collaboration between policymakers, technologists, and criminal justice professionals is crucial to ensuring that these technological advancements are deployed ethically and effectively.

Related topics


Alexandra Zlatinova

Alexandra Zlatinova

Marketing Manager, Unilink