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Official Review of Prisoner Computer and Internet Access

AIC’s Official Review of Prisoner Computer and Internet Access

The emerging use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in prisons is promised to 'transform the daily lived experience of prisoners’, as stated in a recent analysis paper by the Australia Institute of Criminology (AIC). The paper analysed the benefits arising from increased implementation of information and communications technology (ICT) in prisons. ‘It is no longer acceptable for prisoners to be both physically and digitally excluded from society, with some even arguing this represents a form of segregation and silencing’.  

AIC highlights the importance of examining prisoners access to ICT, due to society experiencing an ‘Information Age’. ‘The restricted access prisoners have to ICT is a form of censure that renders them second-class citizens in the Information Age’. The digital exclusion of prisoners also has potential to worsen a person’s social exclusion on release from prison. Movements, domestically and internationally, have been undertaken to increase access to ICT, however, it is still in its infancy, as expressed by the AIC analysis on international and Australian programs.

Rehabilitation and reintegration is a key benefit highlighted by AIC, particularly through increased access to educational programs and employment opportunities. AIC highlighted the ability for personalised computers in cells and internet access to improve the ability of prisoners to undertake employment searches. Recidivism is also reduced through improved prisoner use of time and maintenance of family connections. AIC have overlooked the rehabilitative potential for domestic violence offenders.

A number of challenges must be overcome before achieving effective implementation of ICT in prisons. Primarily, public education efforts should be undertaken in order to change negative perceptions held by custodial staff, media and the public regarding prisoner access to computers and the internet. ‘The digital divide between prisoners and the community will only widen if correctional departments do not invest in technologies that improve prisoner access to education and enhance communication with those outside of prison’. Private organisations are a potential avenue to increase innovation and development of ICT access for prisoners.

This article is a step towards achieving the introduction of computers in cells and preventing the digital divide between prisoners and the community. AIC’s analysis reflects a move towards mainstream acceptance and inevitable implementation of ICT.

The following are important quotes and information from the AIC October 2018 Report 560.

 Context

  • "the restricted access [prisoners] have to [ICT] is a form of censure that renders them second-class citizens in the Information Age" (page 1)
  • "appropriate use of available and emerging ICT has the potential to positively alter the delivery of institutional corrections, not least by improving prisoners’ use of time and achieving rehabilitation and wellbeing outcomes" (page 1)
  • "prisoners have become caught in the ‘digital divide’ and excluded from society" (page 2)
  • "digitally excluding prisoners in a technology dependent society can exacerbate their social exclusion on release from prison" (page 2)
  • "ICTs have also been found to reduce recidivism by improving prisoners’ use of time and family connections" (page 2)

Computers in cells

  • “In Australia, correctional facilities in Victoria, NSW, ACT and Queensland allow eligible prisoners to use secure computers in their cells for study, legal or reintegration purposes” (ACT Corrective Services 2010a; Corrections Victoria 2016; Farley et al. 2015; Justice Action 2011) (page 2)
  • “The available literature suggests that Canberra’s Alexander Maconochie Centre is the only correctional facility in Australia that allows prisoners to access the internet” (ACT Corrective Services 2010b; Farley et al. 2015) (page 3)

International platform

  •  “internet access is prohibited or heavily restricted for prisoners in Canada (Correctional Service Canada 2016), Spain (Barriero-Gen & Novo-Corti 2015), the United Kingdom (Champion & Edgar 2013; Jewkes & Johnston 2009; Reisdorf & Jewkes 2016), most states in the United States (Gorgol & Sponsler 2011) and closed prisons in Denmark” (Denmark Directorate of the Prison Service 2012, as cited in Smith 2012 (page 3). 

Right to communication

  • Page 3 “The Standard guidelines for corrections in Australia (2012: 29) state that, while prisoners should be provided access to computers for legitimate study purposes, internet access should be ‘strictly controlled”.

Access to Internet, emails

  • Case before the ECtHR and Estonian prisoner (page 3)

“…Reiterated that the right to receive information basically prohibits a government from preventing a person from receiving information that others wished or were willing to impart. …as imprisonment inevitably involves a number of restrictions on prisoners’ communications with the outside world, including on their ability to receive information, the Court considered that Article 10 of the Convention cannot be interpreted as imposing a general obligation to provide access to the Internet, or to specific Internet sites, for prisoners. Nevertheless, since access to certain sites containing legal information is granted under Estonian law, the restriction of access to other sites that also contain legal information constitutes an interference with the right to receive information”. (Voorhoof 2016: 1)

  • “Alexander Maconochie Centre in the Australian Capital Territory is the only correctional facility in Aus that allows prisoners to use email” (page 3)
  • “Electronic messaging or email services are available in correctional facilities in Norway, Denmark, the United States and the United Kingdom (Johnson 2016; Knight 2015). In the United States, the Trust Fund Limited Inmate Computer System (TRULINCS) was implemented by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in 2006 and is now available in every BOP operated correctional facility” (Federal Bureau of Prisons 2016) (page 3)
  • "a prisoner in Indiana was subjected to disciplinary action including solitary confinement, blocking of his account and loss of privileges after his sister, who was running a campaign about his claimed wrongful conviction, used the service to transmit a video about the campaign" (page 5)

Billing for Internet access, emails etc

  • “As of late 2015, the provider was charging prisoners US30c for every email, while families transferring money to relatives in custody were charged US$5.95 for an average US$70 transaction” (Kosman & Dugan 2015) (page 4) – in relation to US prisons and an unnamed major supplier

Video Conferencing

  • “In 2015–16, over 31,000 legal and other professional interviews were scheduled using this system (Videoconferencing), up 57 percent from 2014–15 (NSW DoJ 2016a). More than 27,000 legal and professional meetings were scheduled for videoconferencing in the last six months of 2016 alone (NSW DoJ 2017). In 2015–16, NSW Corrective Services coordinated 4,570 videoconferences and nearly two-thirds (63%) of all court matters involving young people in custody were dealt with using audiovisual technology, compared with 52 percent in 2014–15 (NSW DoJ 2016a) (page 6)
  • “Also during 2015–16, 54,456 appearances before the NSW State Parole Authority— 100 percent of such appearances for inmates in custody—were conducted though videoconferencing (NSW DoJ 2016a) (page 6)

Educational programs

  • "Making the Connection began in 2013 with $4.39 million in funding from the Australian Government’s Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program" (page 8).
  • "Perhaps the most notable aspect of this project is its focus on improving access for Indigenous incarcerated students" (page 8).
  • "Virtual Campus is a secure ICT learning platform, similar to that used in the Making the Connection project. The platform is in place at the majority of prisons in England and enables prisoners to complete online training modules and access information about employment (Open University 2016)" (page 8).

Employment

  • “having personalised computers in prison cells and internet access improves the ability of prisoners to search for employment while incarcerated and undertake relevant study. A 2012 analysis of ICT use in the UK found that 22 out of 42 prisons (52%) were using ICT to allow prisoners to submit job applications using secure relay messaging, 17 (33%) were using secure relay messaging for contacting employment or other agencies, 16 (31%) were using ICT in prison workshops and 11 (21%) for virtual interview practice (Champion & Edgar 2013). The Virtual Campus education system used in the UK offers some employment-related functionality, but this appears to have been underdeveloped relative to its education functionality” (Champion & Edgar 2013) (page 9).

Rehabilitation services

  • “Drawing on a broad forensic psychology evidence base, the Level-Up program is delivered over 14 three-hour sessions, with 12 specific modules relating to core cognitive skills of problem recognition and acceptance, openness to intervention, locus of control, basic decision-making capability, emotional intelligence and regulation, and motivation and resilience (ibid). The use of gaming technology is claimed to develop these skills, as well as literacy, numeracy and life skills, in a way that engages a broad range of prisoners and in a cost-effective manner (ibid). While this is one specific example, it suggests the potential for ICT to play a major role in offender rehabilitation in the future” (page 10)
  • “ICTs are regularly used by the wider society to manage everyday aspects of life such as employment, education, leisure, healthcare, relationships and finances. Therefore, normalising the use of such technologies to manage these tasks can enhance an offender’s reintegration into society” (Champion & Edgar 2013; Evans-Chase 2015; Harrison 2014; Knight 2015) (page 10).

 Challenges and risks

  • “the impacts of increasing prison populations (ABS 2017), which can put a strain on education and other prisoner services at the expense of security requirements” (page 12).
  • “Digital Divide between the prisoner and the outside world” (page 14).
  • “Stone and Scharf (2011) suggest increased funding and support from state and federal governments is needed to conduct such research and, thereafter, implement technologies shown to be effective. According to Stone and Scharf (2011) and others (Hopkins 2015), increasing public education is integral for gaining political commitment in an environment where the use of innovative technology by prisoners is often looked upon negatively by custodial staff, media and the public. Educating the public about the cost savings and positive security, rehabilitation and recidivism outcomes that the deployment of new technology can bring may minimise these negative perceptions. However, Hopkins (2015: 53) argues: It is also important that the academic conversation around reducing recidivism is not hijacked by an economistic focus on ‘human capital” (page 14). 

Tagged under: computer access justice

 

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