Technology, when used for good, can certainly be marvellous. The UK is now facing a problem that costs more than £15bn every year. Almost half of all imprisoned adults reoffend within one year of release, and this percentage rises to 60% when talking about jail sentences of less than twelve months. When they leave, only two out of five prisoners have a defined job, education or training outcome. Also, more than 25% of the prison population is from a minority ethnic group, compared to a 14% of the general population.
Perhaps machine learning and other types of prediction algorithms could help solve most of these problems. They could be used to help determine whether an arrestee should be detained pre-trial, or perhaps a facial recognition system could identify someone previously seen by an officer’s body-worn camera. But certainly the biggest potential advantage is that computers’ artificial intelligence, if developed correctly, wouldn’t judge the race or employment status of the arrestee; it would only take into account what actually matters, i.e. previous criminal history in the detention decision.
Perhaps in the future, there would be a transient state between prison and freedom, and this could be a temporary home with the highest surveillance: cameras, GPS monitoring, blood alcohol content monitoring etc. This way prisoners could adapt to live in society again, to work, to watch their children etc. A quarter of prisoners who go to prison have been in care at some point in their lives, and going to prison can have a big detrimental effect on them. Maybe being in a more familiar environment could help prisoners by receiving small consequences.
Last but not least, technology could help with education in prisons, and generally it could help with improving prisoners’ well-being. When I visited HMP Wandsworth in South London with a charity called Unlocked, I could see how technology is now used in prisons, from body cameras to a ‘conference room’, where prisoners could connect with court without having to spend resources on transport or increasing the risk of some prisoners absconding. What surprised me the most though, is that they have screens outside of their cells to order food, just like some fast food restaurants! Also, there are many different languages that can be selected to choose their favourite menu. I wish I had that at home! (All the data has been taken from unlockedgrads.co.uk)