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Smart Prison: the preliminary development process of digital self-services in Finnish prisons

Finnish prisons are known for providing high-quality and stable conditions for prisoners, but they are falling behind in digitalization. The Smart Prison project (started in 2018) develops digital services for prisons and its primary mission is to introduce self-service devices in the new women’s prison opening in October 2020. The needs and opinions of both staff and prisoners regarding their current digital services and the new self-service system were studied by means of surveys and service design workshops. According to the results, more digital services are needed and both staff and prisoners have a positive attitude towards self-service devices in cells. However, concerns were raised about the security and functionality of these devices, especially among the staff. The staff prefers digital services inside prison that make work processes smoother, whereas outside services are seen as risks. The prisoners, however, see the outside services, such as video and phone calls and access to various websites directly from the cell, as most important. The focus of development should be on information security, compatibility with other services and training. The purpose of digitalization in prisons should be seen as a way to assist rehabilitation and reduce recidivism in a more cost-effective way than by only providing limited “live” services inside prison. We will discuss the need for management of change in the prison culture and possible resistance to digital services in light of the divided opinion between prisoners and staff about digital services. The Smart Prison concept and (digital) service design model are part of the new general prison concept of Finnish prisons. Furthermore, we will address the role of digitalization in implementing this new concept based on a service design model and the international recommendations for good prison treatment. Lastly, we discuss the future of the Smart Prison concept and its expansion to all closed prisons in Finland. This development is linked to broader digitalisation efforts in Finnish social services, especially among services targeted to marginalized populations that require special attention with regard to web service accessibility.

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Published on: 28 July 2020

Author: Björn Lindström & Pia Puolakka, RISE Criminal Sanctions Agency