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Implementing Information Technology in Corrections in the Developing World

As corrections in the developing world moves away from punishment and towards the challenges of rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders, corrections officials are searching for ways to improve both their efficiency and effectiveness. There is often a lack of resources available to manage and provide quality correctional services, even when the will to do so is enduring. Compounding the challenge is the fact that most corrections and prison systems in developing nations have been unable to join the information age; they continue to rely on traditional paper-driven, resource intensive, unreliable, unsecure and difficult-to-access record keeping. Pursuing humane and professional correctional aims for the rehabilitation of offenders is a complicated task that requires multifaceted approaches and an inevitable embrace of modern management principles and strategies.

Various technologies to manage offenders are gaining popularity in the field of corrections but perhaps none offer as much potential to improve organisational functioning as offender management information systems. With a special focus on the Offender Management Information System recently implemented by the Namibian Correctional Service (NCS), a recent paper published in the ‘Southern African Journal of Criminology’ describes how the system was developed and how it functions in supporting other reforms within Namibia. Requirements for implementation and challenges that can be expected in the development of any similar system, especially in Africa, are also discussed. The implications in terms of human capital, skills and finances required to successfully manage such a system are outlined.

A well-designed and comprehensive Offender Management Information System is indisputably the way forward for the modern practice of offender management in corrections and prison services around the world.  It allows us to turn information into knowledge and presents a broad array of other advantages:

  • Reducing data redundancy and inconsistency and increasing the potential breadth of ‘corrections relevant’ data collection;Increasing accuracy as automatic checks can be programmed into the system;Minimizing the possibility of data loss since all the information on offenders can be stored on a central server where there is a regular ‘backup’ schedule and disaster recovery mechanism in place;
  • Allowing for easy ‘searching’ for any recorded information on an offender. The user can instantly search for the offender with their name, offender number, biometric information etc. This allows, for example, for much quicker response time in dealing with critical incidents or information requests at the regional or Head Office level rather than constantly barraging institutions to provide information;
  • Ensuring that controlled and restricted access is easy to manage and monitor;Allowing for regular and quick production of automated counts and other daily, monthly or quarterly monitoring reports. Ease of creating ‘report summaries’ in many ways is perhaps one of the most important aspects of such a system. Critical reporting summaries (e.g., overcrowding figures by institution) can be generated easily and these computer-generated reports can be checked for suspicious instances of inaccuracy. Ease of access to this kind of information (e.g., distribution of offenders across institutions) can also translate into more effective systems-level management.
  • Be programmed to provide automated alerts – for example, of offender movement or incidents they are involved in. Moreover, the information system can automatically alert if the offender may be required for a court appearance, medical appointment, family visit, release or transfer …etc., thereby ensuring that both the offender’s needs and rights are respected;
  • Assisting in managing the offender’s progress throughout their sentence and after release. For example, the educational or vocational programmes the offender is involved in can be tracked. The ‘reintegration roadmap’ or sentence journey the offender may have followed can be outlined and this in turn can significantly assist in making appropriate decisions about the offender.
  • Finally, a modern offender management system can give senior corrections officials access to critical information on offenders at any time, in any place, and not just in their office, but wherever they may find themselves (through retrieval of information with various Smart Devices).

Though it may be true that political support and an adequate information technology budget are required, there are ways to realize cost efficiencies when development and implementation of such a system is managed mostly in-house. The experience of the NCS proves the point. It did not cost Namibia millions of US dollars to develop and implement the system. It was achieved within a realistic budget and in a methodical buildings-blocks approach – one step at a time! The advantages of such a system, even for developing jurisdictions that have a serious scarcity of resources, are immeasurable.  It should be seen as an investment and as a way to actually save money in the longer term.  It should also be seen as a very practical way to better respect the human rights and dignity of both offenders and staff members.

For offenders, it can help ensure, for example, that they are more effectively managed in less overcrowded institutions, that their health conditions are more closely monitored, their court appointments are not missed, their release occurs when it should …etc. For staff members, an effective offender management information system allows them to use accurate information on a daily basis in better managing their offender caseloads. Fundamentally, better and easier access to information allows corrections professionalism to mature and grow.

A full description is available in a recently published article in the ‘Southern African Journal of Criminology‘ titled: IMPLEMENTING INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY FOR CORRECTIONS IN AFRICA: A CASE EXAMPLE OF THE NAMIBIAN CORRECTIONAL SERVICE AUTOMATED OFFENDER MANAGEMENT INFORMATION SYSTEM. 

Please refer all correspondence regarding this article to the second author. Email: fporporino@rogers.com.

 

Authors: Ankur Kathuria, Head of Information Technology Maintenance, Development and Support for the Namibian Correctional Service and Dr. Frank Porporino, Senior Partner, T3 Associates Inc. Ottawa, Canada.