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Justice partnership spotlight: Unilink-Serco

Through the management of six prison contracts along with the Prisoner Escorting and Court Services contract (PECS), Serco works with many different partner organisations that provide crucial support through their expertise.

One such partner is British software company, Unilink.

Established in 1994, Unilink Software, part of the Unilink Group, is a UK company specialising in innovative software solutions for the Criminal Justice System (CJS).

With over twenty-five years’ experience and particular expertise in biometric applications, Unilink designs, delivers, implements and supports mission-critical, criminal justice systems on an enterprise-scale, working with government departments, public and private sector operators worldwide. These solutions help manage prisoners in both community and custodial settings.  Unilink pride themselves in developing long-term, successful partnerships with the leading private operators, world tech leaders and innovators such as Serco.

A world leader in Biometrics & Offender Self-service applications, over the years Unilink has pioneered several award-winning innovations and continuously invests in enhancing its solutions portfolio to support all aspects of managing offenders in prisons and in the community.

Unilink and Serco have a long-term and very successful partnership that has introduced to the CJS numerous innovations and award-winning pioneering solutions.

Serco’s partnership with Unilink goes back to 2006 when both companies worked closely to develop and deliver the first-ever prisoner self-service system in the UK. Later that year, Unilink rolled out their Custodial Management System (CMS) and prisoner Self-service to HMP Dovegate.

Following this success, in 2007 Unilink rolled out CMS and self-service across all operated by Serco prisons in the UK. The system is still in place now.  In 2008 Unilink’s CMS and self-service were rolled out across Serco’s sites in Australia (Acacia Correctional Centre in Perth) and New Zealand (Auckland South Correctional facility).

Throughout 16 years of partnership, Unilink have installed 552 assets across 10 Serco sites in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

“Unilink appreciates the relationship with Serco which has resulted ultimately in the enhanced operation of prisons and detention centres for inmates, staff, management and also the friends and family of people in prison.  Unilink has focussed upon applying innovative technology for the justice and immigration sectors and, thanks to our partnership with Serco we have developed steadily, over twenty years, into one of the world’s leading companies in this domain.  Like Serco we are also concerned about our Social Purpose and last year we became “Carbon Neutral” through making efforts to curb our own emissions and buying carbon offsets.  Thank-you Serco.”  Francis Toye, CEO and Founder.

Among the many different services Unilink provide for Serco, there are five key services that particularly stand out and have drastically improved how Serco prisons have been ran thanks to Unilink.

1. Prisoner Self-service

Unilinks’ self-service system transforms prisons by automating paper-driven processes and streamlining routine administrative tasks. Prisoners are given the responsibility to manage their own affairs by accessing the system on a secure device, enabling them to make a variety of requests, purchase items, view their account balance, schedule their visits, send and receive e-messages and more – all of which is proven to have a rehabilitative impact. Prison staff can manage, process and respond to any prisoner request quickly and easily, using CMS, the “backbone” of self-service.

Reducing the administrative burden frees up prison staff time, reduces frustration, thus increases the mental wellbeing of both, inmates and staff who support their journey back into society to live a life without crime. Over 2,000,000,000 Prisoner Self-Service transactions have been processed to date.

2. Custodial Management System: CMS

Unilink’s Custodial Management System (CMS) now at Release 39 is a comprehensive, biometrically enabled management system for custodial environments. Based on a module-based architecture, CMS includes modules for offender management, and Prisoner Self-Service, which increases safety and security.

CMS is flexible and can be customised to the specific needs of the establishment. It is able to integrate with other systems and is continuously improved and updated. All Unilink solutions are created with the direct input of industry professionals and user feedback ensuring that they are the most up-to-date and user-driven solutions available.

3. Vulnerability Predictor Tool (VPT)

This is an idea developed by Serco.  Unilink is very pleased to have taken on this work and is continuing to develop and support the Vulnerability Predictor which helps identify inmates who are becoming isolated and hence at risk of self-harm.  This tool is being provided at no charge to any UK establishment with the CMS data upon which it is based.

4. Medication Distribution Lockers

(MDLs) are innovative lockers with biometric access linked to the Custodial Management System, designed, and operated by Unilink. The innovative digital solution is developed in collaboration with Serco, Traka, who provided medical lockers; Unilink who designed and developed the software and Prisoner Self-Service Kiosk hardware and Practice Plus Group (formerly Care UK) the healthcare partners.

These lockers allow healthcare professionals to load ‘in-possession’ medicines specific to each offender into locker compartments that can then be accessed at a convenient time by the offenders with their fingerprints. This removes the need to be seen by a nurse or doctor, making social distancing easier and reducing the need for close personal contact. The solution reduces frustration, speeds up the process of collection, saves time for healthcare staff and allows secure establishments’ staff more efficient planning and monitoring.

MDLs won two PENNA awards (Patient Experience Network National Awards) – “Using Insight for Improvement” and “Partnership working to improve experience”, and were runner up in” Innovative use of Tech”.

5. Electronic Prisoner Property Management System

The Electronic Prisoner Property Management System (EPPMS), developed in conjunction with Unilink, is linked to the prison’s Custodial Management System (CMS), a computer system used to manage many other aspects of prison life, including prisoner requests and activities.

Serco is the first organisation to adopt the new EPPMS. Once it was successfully trialled in the Therapeutic Centre in HMP Dovegate and the concept was proven, it was rolled out throughout the rest of the prison.

Previously the care of prisoners’ property depended on manual property record cards; problems can occur due to the mixed quality and differing handwriting, illegible prisoner signatures and interpretation errors.  These challenges can result in property being separated from its owner, or at worst, lost. With EPPMS all articles of property belonging to prisoners are logged on the system, providing a consolidated, manageable and transparent management system.

The system has a modern, easy to use computer interface, with drop-down menus and standard categories of property, which is linked to other prison processes.  It is paperless and provides records of prisoner property that are consistent and easy to interpret, together with live property records which are available throughout the prison.

From a prisoner’s perspective, the EPPMS provides for the first time ever the ability to check their own property records, using the self- serve computer kiosks on every wing, which they can securely access using biometric signatures.

First published by Serco.

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