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Norway’s Agder prison invests in Self-Service technology

Norways-Agder-prison1

Location: Mandal, Froland and Evje, Norway
Opened: 2020
Number of prisoners: 300 men and 20 women in high-security
Self-Service Transactions: 9,400+ applications processed since opening

The challenge at Agder prison

In 2016 planning began by the Directorate of Norwegian Correctional Service for the new Agder prison. The southern Norway region had limited prison capacity and the Directorate was looking to both increase capacity and introduce digital solutions which were forward-looking. These solutions were to help streamline work processes and tasks for employees, inmates, partners, and the outside world. The solutions would need to help strengthen communication and not remove the value of direct human contact between employees and inmates.

The principle of normality in the Correctional Service is a progressive approach, stating that:

  • The punishment is the restriction of liberty; no other rights have been removed by the sentencing court. Therefore the sentenced offender has all the same rights as all others who live in Norway.
  • No one shall serve their sentence under stricter circumstances than necessary for the security in the community. Therefore, offenders shall be placed in the lowest possible security regime.
  • During the serving of a sentence, life inside will resemble life outside as much as possible.

Agder prison is Norway’s largest – with 100 places in the 65-acre department in Mandal which opened in June 2020 and a further 200 places in the 95-acre section of Froland which opened in October 2020.

Petter Dalen, Project Manager of the Directorate of Norwegian Correctional Services said “When we are building a new prison we focus on digitalisation. In Agder prison, we have a good infrastructure foundation with ethernet, Wi-Fi, RFID, Bluetooth sensors and electronic locks on doors. We already had IT systems for employees through secure desktops, but we quickly found out that we don’t have anything for the inmates”.

The solution

The new prison gave the Directorate the opportunity to invest in a digital solution which enables offenders, through their own initiatives, to change their criminal behaviour and reduce reoffending. Tryggve Fosse, Director of the Correctional Service in the southwest region, said “Self-service is an important principle when getting the best possible rehabilitation.”

Unilink Prisoner Self-Service: Used by over 45,000 prisoners in over 50 Establishments across Europe, the UK and Australia, the system has processed over 2 billion transactions to date. Self-service automates many of the labour-intensive and time-consuming administrative processes such as ad-hoc requests, the purchase of items, scheduling visits and more. This reduces the administrative burden on prison staff whilst giving offenders the responsibility of controlling their own affairs, increasing accountability which is proven to have a rehabilitative impact. Staff can utilise the time saved by working directly with offenders, fostering better relationships.

Director of the Correctional Service in the southwest region, said “Self-service is an important principle when getting the best possible rehabilitation.”

Unilink Prisoner Self-Service: Used by over 45,000 prisoners in over 50 Establishments across Europe, the UK and Australia, the system has processed over 2 billion transactions to date. Self-service automates many of the labour-intensive and time-consuming administrative processes such as ad-hoc requests, the purchase of items, scheduling visits and more. This reduces the administrative burden on prison staff whilst giving offenders the responsibility of controlling their own affairs, increasing accountability which is proven to have a rehabilitative impact. Staff can utilise the time saved by working directly with offenders, fostering better relationships. 

Norways-Agder-prison2

At Agder, Unilink’s wall-mounted kiosks give access to receive messages from employees and relatives and send requests for various reasons such as booking health appointments. Since Mandal opened in June 2020 and Froland in October 2020 over 9,400 requests have been processed. Petter Dalen, Project Manager said, “those are requests that earlier would be written down on notes, handed to a prison officer who had to walk down to the department to deliver the note and then get the message back, so this is a big benefit”.

Prison leader Frank Tveiten Johansen explains the benefits of the self-service solution used in Agder prison
“First and foremost, the solution will give prisoners a better overview and control over their daily lives. In addition, they receive good digital learning. With several digital solutions available in the criminal justice system, we help create inmates who will do better in the digital community when released”, he says.

Johansen also hopes that the self-service system will allow employees to spend more time with the inmates. “By allowing inmates to manage most of their daily lives, the time spent on administrative tasks is reduced.”

The implementation process

Petter Dalen, Project Manager said “We had a very fast implementation. We started in March 2020 when the agreement was signed. Mandal opened 1st June so we didn’t have more than 3-4 months.

In that time we managed to get the server infrastructure right, biometrics aren’t allowed in Norway so Unilink implemented a smart card reader on the kiosks. The smart cards are used by prisoners for logging into kiosks, opening doors, opening drawers, used as an ID and they can pay with it in the shop.

We definitely had a good working relationship with the Unilink team from the start. We had a few change requests which were handled perfectly. We had a very ambitious plan to start off with and although we didn’t quite follow the project plan to the point, we got the solution out, we got the wall-mounted kiosks up and inmates could use it from day 1 in Mandal.

We planned a good training for our super users in Agder, Simone and Mike (from the Unilink training team) hosted zoom education and back and forth questioning with the super users.

The key factor was the mix of personalities and the fact that both teams wanted to succeed”.

CEO of Unilink, Francis Toye commented, “Despite the challenges presented by Covid-19, the lockdown and the prevention of travel to Norway since February 2020 we have managed to implement prisoner self-service for a new prison, a new customer in a new country and on-time. This is a fantastic achievement and testament to the joint project working between the Kriminalomsorgen and Unilink.”

The impact post-implementation

Minister of Justice, Monica Mæland opened the new Agder prison in June 2020.“This is a huge step forward and boost for the correctional services. Initially, Norway has the world’s best correctional services, but Agder prison facilitates criminal work in a whole new way. The fact that the inmates can both shop for the food and make it themselves. That they can dispose of their own money and take education is very important.

Such a modern prison building provides better conditions for both inmates and employees. It facilitates good content in the sentence.

These solutions will provide more effective control of inmates and visitors. They are essential for the return of prisoners to society.”

Petter Dalen, Project Manager said “I’m quite impressed that we managed to implement ready for use with all the infrastructure and the things we had to do to set it up due to a pandemic which also started in March 2020. The use of the system since opening is testament to how well it has been adopted and inmates’ feedback to us that the system is easy to use and gives confidence that messages and requests are received every time.”

The Future

Petter Dalen, Project Manager said “Prisoner Self-Service is what we see in the future across all Norway prisons. We still have functionality which we want to release to better the service for offenders and staff.

It also has to be part of inmate’s digital future in Norway. We can educate them, we can give them a lot of benefits whilst inside, but if they don’t follow the digital world outside, if they can’t upload their CV or apply for a job digitally it’s difficult to succeed in the outside world. These need to be present in prisons if we are to achieve our goals of producing ‘better neighbours’ who don’t come back to prison.”

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