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Biometric enabled lockers providing medicine to prisoners at HMP Dovegate

Biometric-enabled-lockersLocation:  England
Opened: 2001
Category / Type: Category B
Number of offenders: Up to 1060 male adult prisoners over the age of 21
Over 150,000 biometric enrolments since 2008

The challenge at HMP Dovegate

HMP Dovegate opened in 2001 on the Staffordshire/Derbyshire border in England. The prison is one of six privately operated by Serco. HMP Dovegate is a Category B prison, holding up to 860 remand and convicted adult male prisoners, as well as up to 200 in a purpose-built Therapeutic Community facility for men serving long or indeterminate sentences. The site is designated to operate as a resettlement prison, serving the catchment area of Staffordshire and the West Midlands.70% of the prison population in a 2019 inspection were serving sentences of 10 years or more.

Across England and Wales the prison population is aging, and up to 90% of prisoners over 50 have at least one moderate or severe health condition. 44% of the overall prison population, including 70% of older prisoners reported to HMIP that they are taking medication. Prisoners often experience problems getting the medication they require. These include flash points around medical hatches, prisoners being bullied to handover their medication and prisoners having to choose between recreational activities or picking up their medication. These poor prisoner experiences when collecting medicine cause unsafe environments not just for prisoners but for all involved, including prison officers and healthcare professionals.

At HMP Dovegate healthcare professionals on site manually dispensed medication to offenders, a time-consuming process that led to many offenders queuing in confined spaces. This restricted the times they could collect their medications, leading to frustration and the potential for illicit exchanges. Covid-19 presented new challenges around the delivery of medications within prisons, and a digital-enabled solution was required.

Hayley Peek, Serco’s Senior Health and Social Care Business Partner said: “In prisons, the administration of regular medication is challenging for the people in our care as well as clinical and custodial staff.” Hayley continues “In recent years the use of medication in custodial settings has increased. There have been several factors behind this, including increases in prisoner numbers; an ageing prisoner population; the prevalence of poor health and long-term conditions amongst prisoners. This has taken place against a background of national increases in medication usage and changes in medicines classification of tradable medication. Consequently, scoping of a safer more efficient technological solution was the most logical approach to improving care.”

The solution

HMP Dovegate received a digital solution developed in collaboration with Serco, who operate HMP Dovegate; 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.

Unilink Custodial Management System: Providing safety, security and efficiency, Unilink’s Custodial Management System integrates biometric fingerprint identification and verification into a wide range of functions: from offender, staff and visitor enrolment, movement tracking, access control, Prisoner Self-Service and integration with Medicine Distribution Lockers. Using biometrics increases security, creates efficiencies by replacing outdated paper-based processes with modern automated procedures and limits potential for human error.

Medicine Distribution Lockers (MDLs): Innovative lockers with biometric access linked to the Custodial Management System. These lockers allow healthcare professionals to load ‘in-possession’ medicines specific to each prisoner into locker compartments that can then be accessed at a convenient time by the prisoners 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.  

MDLs have a number of benefits for prisoners, prison staff and healthcare professionals. For prisoners the use of lockers helps them to plan their days more effectively. The MDLs speed up the process to collect medicine, so the prisoners no longer have to choose between recreation and picking up medication. This reduces the prisoners stress and anxiety and improves the health and wellbeing of the prison population as a whole. 

For healthcare professionals, the lockers can be loaded quickly, saving time. As prisoners need to use their fingerprints to access their assigned compartment, healthcare professionals can be confident that the right prisoner will receive the right medicine. The software provides an audit trail of medication collection time and by whom. 

For prison staff the lockers enable more time and flexibility in planning the daily regime and enables close monitoring of potential “at risk” prisoners. The system can immediately highlight prisoners who have not collected their medication and has security built in – compartments are allocated randomly every time to prevent storing contraband, and prisoner fingerprint access once medication has been collected is removed to prevent “stashing”.

Best-in-class Biometrics

Unilink is a world leader in the use of biometrics in the criminal justice sector. Unilink uses IDEMIA’s innovative biometric devices equipped with robust, high-quality optical sensors that capture and process fingerprints with excellent image quality in speeds of quicker than a second. At HMP Dovegate several types of IDEMIA biometric devices are used throughout the establishment including Sigma Lite + devices which are used with the Medicine Distribution Lockers. These devices have duress finger and fake finger detection, adding an extra layer of security. 

Francis Toye, CEO Unilink commented: “Unilink is very pleased to be working in a partnership with Serco, Traka, IDEMIA and Care UK to deliver innovative new ways of working”.

Hayley Peek, Serco’s Senior Health and Social Care Business Partner said: “Covid- 19 has presented new challenges around the delivery of medications within prisons and there will be a need to consider new ways of delivering essential medication services to prisoners. This Medical Distribution Locker concept will undoubtedly have a role to play and be one of the many innovations which will support our prisons…. It is very encouraging that 80% of respondents found the lockers easy to use…..”  

After a successful trial of this innovative approach, Practise Plus Group (formerly Care UK) are expanding the Medicine Distribution Lockers to an additional 20+ prisons as part of a phased rollout and have integrated these into their strategic bidding process. 


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