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Flagship Digital Prison HMP Berwyn a vision of how prisons can reduce reoffending

Flagship-Digital-PrisonLocation:  Wrexham, Wales
Opened: 2017
Category / Type: Category C
Number of offenders: Up to 2,106 male adult prisoners


The challenge at HMP Berwyn

The current justice landscape demands the need for reform, with assaults, violence, self-harm, rates of reoffending, self-inflicted deaths at all-time highs. The prison estate is old, over a quarter of prisons were built before 1900, many prisons are in a state of disrepair and overcrowding is commonplace. To address these formidable issues, HMPPS introduced its Prison Reform Programme to reduce violence, re-offending and increase safety in prisons by implementing new digital technology and transitioning to a new digital organisation. Digital Prisons are a key part of this programme, increasing access to technology across the prison estate. One of the first prisons to adopt the Digital reform was HMP Berwyn in Wrexham, Wales. This 2,106 bed public – sector prison opened in February 2017 and is the flagship of the Digital programme. HMP Berwyn is the largest prison in England and Wales and second largest in Europe.

The solution

Rather than adopt the traditional administrative systems, HMP Berwyn introduced Unilink’s Biometric enabled digital solutions which automates paper-based processes. 

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 Using biometrics increases security, creates efficiencies by replacing outdated paper-based processes with modern automated procedures and limits potential for human error. 

Analysing the rich operational data collected enables the identification of those prisoners taking drugs and those most at risk of self-harm. The effect of drugs, most particularly spice, is very damaging to prison welfare and safety. CMS gathers intelligence enabling those visitors likely to be delivering drugs to be identified and their activities halted. Biometrics ensures that despite multiple ID’s, individuals are tracked and if necessary, caught. At HMP Berwyn, Officers were able to spot illegal trafficking mobile phones by analysing prisoner behavioural patterns in CMS.

Prisoner Self-Service: Used by over 45,000 prisoners in over 50 Establishments across UK, Europe and Australia, the system has processed approximately 2 billion transactions to date. Self-service automates many labour-intensive and time-consuming administrative processes such as applications, the purchase of items, choosing of meals, viewing the weekly timetable, viewing account balance, scheduling visits, accessing frequently asked questions and more. The system has a complete audit trail so requests can’t get lost, and response time and content by prison officers can be monitored. Prisoners log in to the system using their fingerprint on wing-based kiosks or via username and password on laptops in their cells. The service gives prisoners a sense of self-worth because they are able to manage their day-to-day activities and increased accountability for those who have in-cell laptops. This in turn encourages self-reliance and promotes the “responsible prisoner” model, leading to a reduction in re-offending upon release.

In addition to the prisoner benefits, Self-Service reduces the administrative burden on staff. Staff can use the time saved by working directly with offenders, fostering better relationships. The solution also helps to identify prisoners with low planned “purposeful activity” and direct resources to them, as these individuals are often those at the highest risk of self-harm and suicide.

The catering team at HMP Berwyn use the system to collate all the food orders for the day and the kitchen manager described the service as ‘the best thing since sliced bread’. The food quality has improved and there is less wastage.

The establishment are always looking for new ways to benefit from the Unilink system and recently migrated from a paper-based system for charitable donations by prisoners to a digital solution in the Prisoner Self-Service.  This led to a reduction in the time taken to create a report and process the donation saving HMP Berwyn 2.5 days per month.

The impact at HMP Berwyn

In 2020 HMP Berwyn users carried out over 37 Million self-service transactions, including over 1.5 million application requests, without CMS and Prisoner Self-Service all these transactions would have been manual. 

According to one officer “There are massive benefits to the system. All the data is stored there – which means it can’t be moved, lost or deleted. At any given moment we can go and check on the data we need. This allowed us to get rid of the paper-based processes [used at other establishments], which cost wise and time wise is great saving.

Modular systems 

Unilink’s solutions are modular and configurable to meet the requirements of each individual establishment. The solutions can be operated on premise, from a datacentre or in the Cloud and are browser based and device agnostic. At HMP Berwyn, the web-based self-service portal for Prisoners is accessible on Windows laptops via a wired connection in their cells, and via kiosks on the wings. Within the Digital Prisons Programme, Unilink designed and developed an API that communicates with external systems. 

HMPPS centralised offender management system, P-NOMIS, holds records of all prisoners including their prison number, account balance and visitor information. The API interfaces with the PNOMIS system to transfer data between PNOMIS and the Self-service application, such as the real-time account balance.

HMPPS and Unilink working together to make more prisons digital

Digital Prisons Programme has often been referred to as the biggest reform in the British Custodial System since the Victorian Age. 11 prisons are live with a further 13 planned to upgrade to the Digital Prisons standard. Unilink has installed 600 kiosks across these prisons to date.  



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