Inmates at two ‘pop-up’ prisons in New South Wales are being delivered drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs via touchscreen terminals in their cells.
NSW Department of Justice chief information officer Aaron Liu, revealed today that the kiosks were an essential element of the controversial ‘rapid-build’ prisons, in which inmates live in open-plan dormitories.
“It’s a very unique environment because we then need to supply them with activities, such as those available on the screen, to do things like drug and alcohol education programs on that touchscreen, access services through that, in order to keep them busy,” Liu told an AIIA event audience in Sydney this morning.
The state government opened the second of two new prisons in the Hunter Valley town of Cessnock last year. The first, in Wellington in the central west, was completed in late 2017.
The jails – each constructed within 12 months – put prisoners together in 25-bed dorms, monitored from above by guards and hundreds of cameras.
“We’ve got a state prison [system] in crisis, the main population has exploded, and jails have been stretched to the limit. We’ve had industrial action and other things in a high pressure cooker environment,” Lui explained.
Instead of individual cells, each inmate is designated a ‘pod’ containing a bed and touchscreen through which they access services and entertainment.
“What they have is a kiosk, and a bed – it’s kind of like a very unluxurious Emirates lounge – it’s all stainless steel and vinyl,” Liu said.
The state government is needing to come up with innovative ways to deal with a growing prison population, which in 2018 grew by about 4.2 per cent from the previous year, according to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR).
BOSCAR expected the number of prisoners to reach 13,930 by March this year.
The increase in the number of inmates has not been matched by an increase in prison staff. The Public Service Association of NSW in 2017 labelled the state’s jails "grossly overcrowded" and “unsafe” for guards.
Corrective Services NSW, the division of the Department of Justice responsible for the state’s prisons, is planning job cuts at a number of the sites, which has prompted strike action.
At Wellington and Cessnock, Liu said “the staffing profile is greatly reduced and technology has enabled that to occur”.
Liu said the department was also exploring how digital technologies could be used to deliver rehabilitation programs for offenders on parole to reduce the risk of reoffending.
“When you incarcerate people or you bring offenders close together in a program, they make friends with other like-minded people and their risk of offending actually increases,” he explained.
“So delivering those services at home in a digital way, in a pro-social family environment is actually much better in terms of reducing reoffending,” he added.