Over the past 25 years, the prison population has grown significantly from 44,246 in 1993 to 82,384 as of December 2018. Capacity has not kept pace with demand, and many prisons are now overcrowded. 

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic compounded some existing issues within prison systems; for example, ‘COVID-secure’ ways of working further limited ‘unlocked’ time due to the need to stagger the population and maintain appropriate social distancing measures. The cancellation of visiting times from family and friends has also impacted inmates’ mental wellbeing. 

In the United Kingdom, a House of Commons Justice Committee report, ‘Prison Populations 2022: Planning for the future,’ highlighted the grave concerns of the prison sector, including budgets, provision of prison places and “looking at the drivers of that population and trying to influence them.” 

According to the report, in June 2018, the U.K. Prisons Minister at the time, Rory Stewart, suggested the short-term focus was prison safety and decency; the medium term on rehabilitation; and, in the longer term, on facilitating a reduction in the prison population. Within the report, a narrower set of priorities for 2018-2019 included getting “the basics right by providing decent, safe and modern prisons that tackle criminal activity and drug abuse, [while] providing strong incentives for prisoners to reform.”


Security by Design

It is argued that sustainable, rehabilitative behavior change depends on an individual’s decision not to re-offend, and the incentives and support that help maintain that choice are critical. Although architecture alone cannot directly change behaviors, the design of the built environment has been shown to affect behavior and support positive change. 

With this mindset, providing a safe, secure, and decent prison estate was a commitment by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and a core aim of the Prison Estate Transformation Programme. It aimed to create up to 10,000 new prison places to replace aging, ineffective prisons and outsource prison facilities management. While the program itself has since been suspended, its objectives remain in place as identified as part of the Justice 2030 project, where the Ministry “develops a realistic, properly costed, long-term estate strategy that enables it to meet the needs of an ever-changing prison population.”

To progress and create secure, safe, decent and less crowded prisons, work has been done to create a fit-for-purpose prison estate. Recently opened $253 million (£212m) HMP Berwyn in Wrexham is the largest new-build prison in England and Wales and the second largest in Europe, acting as a smoke-free, closed rehabilitation establishment, which holds up to 2,106 adult men.

HMP Berwyn was striking in its development specification and how significant efforts had been made to turn a mostly conventional prison into a more inspirational and uplifting environment.

The walls were painted brighter than usual, and largescale, high-quality prints of landscapes were applied to the walls. Positive landscaping of the lawn areas between the buildings allowed for flower beds and trees. These physical measures matched the operational ideology, with those in custody referred to as ‘men’ and the cells as ‘rooms.’ The guiding principle was that officers and staff are primarily enablers of rehabilitation. 

“The focus of HMP Berwyn is on rehabilitation,” says Thomas Cox, Lead Prison Pharmacist at HMP Berwyn. “Within this, the health and wellbeing center, together with the dedicated pharmacy department, plays a key role to help men realize their potential and benefit society in a ‘crime-free future’ on their release.”

HMP Berwyn now stands as the first publicly-run super-prison, where every aspect of its design and function and its values centers around rehabilitation principles. Key to its success are processes being easy to operate by authorized personnel without compromising security.


Improvement in Security Technology

HMP Berwyn is also unique in being constructed with the use of security technology at the forefront. This is throughout the prison for both the men and the staff, from the use of ‘in-room’ technology with laptops connected to an internal prison network given to each man in custody to technologies that help staff operate the facilities.

Traka key cabinets operate as the central key management system for the prison rooms. This has recently been extended to the NHS-run pharmacy department, where a key cabinet initially to manage 90 keys — has room for medical and sharp ‘restricted tools’ that must be carefully managed within the prison environment.

The move to embrace technology is one of the critical opportunities for developments in the prisons’ policy under the Justice 2030 project. And within this, building services for offenders themselves to regain an appropriate level of autonomy, including managing some of their day-to-day requirements.

In planning for the future, Justice 2030 believes that “a modernized prison estate could benefit significantly from greater use of technology to support purposeful activity, including education and training, and to free prison staff from tasks which could be automated, enabling them to spend more time engaging meaningfully with prisoners.”


Medication Management

Another critical challenge of prisons is medication management, mainly relating to the increase in numbers and the aging population identified alongside inmates in poor health and with long-term conditions requiring prescription medication.

To address this medication management challenge, Serco and healthcare partners Practice Plus Group worked with a specialist custodial management system designed and developed by Unilink and Traka to establish a solution using its specialist therapeutic community in Dovegate prison.

Dovegate prison, itself a successful representation of the Transforming Prison Estates program, is run by Serco. The site was selected as a trial center for a new Medication Distribution Locker (MDL), as it was demonstrative of a Category B prisoner population, where the population was stable, and the infrastructure was available and appropriate, i.e., IT connection, accessibility, space and security.

Today, the men in Dovegate can access their medications without seeing a doctor or nurse. Biometrics allow the men to collect ‘in-possession medications,’ removing the need to queue at hatches. The men responded to the use of lockers acknowledging that the new delivery process and use of the MDL freed up time for custodial staff, improving access to available services. It was also stated to be less disruptive and faster, allowing flexibility around the prison regime.

Further positives included its reliability and additional functionality, which notified inmates when medication was available. And significantly, in terms of wellbeing, it has been noted to reduce some of the overall stress for the prisoners of the medications collection process, alongside associated anxieties and concerns.

In line with the Prisons Reform Bill, it has increased inmates’ independence, control of medications, privacy, and decency. Custodial and healthcare staff cited many advantages, including less stress and pressure on time and resources, improved communications with staff due to reduced frustration, and a notable increase in compliance in inmates taking medication.


Security Technology & the Future of Prison Safety

These two examples of the use of technology in prisons prove how it can have multiple benefits for inmates and staff alike and can reduce anger, violence, anxiety and depression by supporting inmate responsibility, leading to better mental health and wellbeing. 

All aspects of the process are improved, from supporting staff to being more efficient with their time and resource, alongside the obvious mental health benefits for inmates eager to start their new life.

This article originally ran in Security, a twice-monthly security-focused eNewsletter for security end users, brought to you by Security magazine. Subscribe here.