South Australia’s Department for Correctional Services (DCS) is partway through the rollout of a new locked-down, cloud-connected desktop environment intended to provide new technology training opportunities for prisoners, as well as support for numeracy and literacy education.
The initiative is part of the state’s ‘10by20’ goal: A 10 per cent reduction in the rate of reoffending by 2020.
“One of the key blockers to rehabilitation is education and skills development,” Microsoft Australia’s national technology officer Lee Hickin told a media briefing.
DCS wanted to give prisoners the “opportunity to learn, develop and build skills that are practical, are real, and could be used in the outside world”. However, bringing technology into a secure prison facility carries with it a number of inherent risks, Hickin said.
DCS wanted a system that was secure and prevented access to the Internet but was scalable and provide access to cloud technology.
By October the Azure-based solution had been rolled out to four sites as part of an extended pilot. Since then the rollout has reached another two prisons, with another two to come. Some 472 prisoners are accessing the system, according to Microsoft. The system needs to be able to potentially support up to 3000 people at nine prisons.
“They built a solution in Azure, connected to a modern, Office 365 desktop that’s secure, that’s locked down, that provides a rich, modern experience,” Hickin said.
It offers “a secure experience with no ability for these inmates to have access outside of what they need to have access to, using Azure as the foundation of that secure boundary, if you like, to the service they provide,” he added.
“One of the keys for us was security,” DCS director, knowledge and information systems, David Styles, said in a statement. “So, unlike any other educational institution, our students are offenders. And, we, therefore, have to restrict their ability to communicate. Firstly, externally to the institution but also, restrict their communication with each other.”
Ultimately DCS aims to create an ‘online campus’ that will support tertiary-level education for prisoners. The department is working to connect the platform to a learning management system.