Prisoner numbers in England and Wales are projected to rise by 25% (20,000) over the next five years. This may potentially undermine post-pandemic prison recovery, states a new report Prison: the facts, published on 5th July 2021 by the Prison Reform Trust.
The paper highlights Ministry of Justice prison population projections that predict a rise to 98,700 people from the current level of 77,912 (4 June 2021) by 2026. This is due to the impact of longer sentencing policies, including proposals in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill currently before Parliament, the recruitment of 20,000 police officers, which is expected to increase charge volumes, and the recovery of the courts as Covid-19 restrictions subside.
The prison estate has suffered one of the most challenging periods in the history of prison service. For the past 15 months as a result of public health restrictions imposed as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, the great majority of prisoners have been locked up for at least 23 hours a day, with almost no training, work or education and very limited family contact.
The Covid-19 pandemic has created major disruption in the normal running of the prison system. This has led to urgent changes to prison regimes in order to prevent transmission and protect health. On 24th March 2020 prisons moved to an Exceptional Regime Management Plan. This saw most activities, including prison education, non-essential employment and family visits, stop with immediate effect. Almost all purposeful activity was suspended, including work, training and education.
HMPPS has taken those difficult decisions to protect the public, prison staff and people in their care. Evidence from inspectors and PRT research suggests that people in prison accepted restrictions as necessary and proportionate. However, as days of confinement and isolation have turned into months, there has been mounting frustration that prisons have not loosened restrictions in parallel with the outside community.
Some urgent measures have been taken to ensure that prisoners are kept occupied while locked up with support packs. In-cell telephony and video calls were implemented in some establishments. Those are all positive steps. We don’t know and currently there isn’t any evidence as of what the long-term impact on mental and physical health of prisoners would be, forced to spend over 23 hours a day locked up – for their own protection. But we believe that technology although not the sole solution might be part of the answer of helping rehabilitation and normalisation in prison.
In-cell technology can assist education and training. This could lead to better chances of rehabilitation and re-integration upon release. In-cell tech can also be used for keeping family contact, which inevitably leads to better parenting, stronger ties with society and improved mental health.
We are optimistic and welcome HMPPS Digital, Data and Technology Strategy 2021/2022 published recently where every prisoner is promised access to an in-cell device and video conferencing will be adopted throughout the estate and in the probation service with the aim of supporting rehabilitation and remote supervision. According to the vision outlined in the strategy – technology will be used to enable rehabilitation and more efficient running of the services.
As a software solutions provider with over 20 years of experience working in the justice sector, we believe and have seen the transformative effect of technology. Prisoners feel more empowered. Families feel more connected. Prison staff have more time to focus on direct work with offenders.
Digital can transform prison service delivery and we are looking forward to working together with HMPPS to support this transformation and achieve positive outcomes for prisoners, prison staff and society. Get in touch to understand how we can help your digital transformation journey.