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Prepaid Cards Become the Newest Inmate at Finnish Prisons

Prepaid cards are being deployed to all 26 of Finland’s prisons and their 3,000 inmates. The programme will eventually enable the entire prison service to go cashless, by making it possible for all inmates to make purchases both inside and outside of prison using this innovative method of electronic payment.

General purpose prepaid cards operate in the same manner as a regular bank card enabling spend on and offline and enabling access to cash via ATMs. The difference lies in the fact that these cards are not linked to any form of bank account (there is no interest paid on the funds) and various parameters can be set to limit usage when their application is applied in a particular setting, such as a prison.

How does prepaid work in prisons?

The programme will make prepaid cards available to inmates from the moment they arrive in both open or closed prisons. Personnel staff are responsible for loading funds to each individual’s card and then subsequent funds can be added using a personalised IBAN code for that specific card and prisoner.

The system will work in real-time, displaying each inmate’s balance on specialised payment terminals – initially accessible to prison staff only. A web portal system is currently being developed to accompany each card, making it possible for prisoners to monitor their card transactions too. When that inmate is released after serving their sentence, any remaining credit can be used in the short term and thereafter, transferred to a nominated bank account.

Project manager at the Finnish Criminal Sanctions Agency (CSA), Eija-Riitta Nelin believes the prepaid card is the first of its kind in the world that will enable inmates to use the same card both in and outside of prison.

Current Finnish legislation prevents inmates of closed prisons from having access to any means of payment and therefore prisoners will initially only be able to access their cards for regulated canteen purchases. However, this is due to change in the near future, with the law rewritten to allow individuals to have their card in their possession at all times.

Benefits of a prepaid prison

Prepaid cards will completely eradicate any need for external relations and friends to send cash, cheques or postal orders to anyone inside Finnish prisons, paving the way for a more secure system. This is a positive step for the prison system as a whole, where cash is typically more problematic than productive.

As well as helping to reduce the possibility of security issues, reduce risk and eliminate the hassle factor of cash-handling, prepaid cards will enable institutions to streamline and monitor their existing processes and will remove the need for manual administration. This will make it quicker and more efficient for authorities to admit new prisoners and also to make the necessary benefits and salary payments.

Another advantage for authorities is the fact that as the same card is operational across all prisons, if an individual is transferred from one institution to another, their funds are automatically moved too – removing any administrational burden at both the previous and new location.

In addition, encouraging all inmates to manage their finances whilst serving their sentence is an enabler and can make for a more seamless transition back into society afterwards.

The prepaid future

Finland’s government has long been recognised for its innovative use of digital and electronic channels for development and growth of the country. Citigroup’s latest money index puts Finland as the most ‘digitally ready’ country for the third year in a row and highlights stark contrasts against the rest of the world.

The implementation of a prepaid system throughout Finnish prisons, part of the country’s wider plans to give prisoners better access to electronic services, serves as a concrete example of the country’s dynamic and progressive nature. It is both admirable and prudent that this mindset is being extended to the prison community too.

Author: Noel Moran