Home detention is getting an upgrade. Research is now underway in the United Kingdom that would use advanced monitoring systems connected to a network of high-tech sensors attached to lawbreakers.
Convicted offenders would be monitored on a 24-hour basis by use of artificial intelligence, machine-learning algorithms and lightweight electronic sensors, according to a Future Tense article by Antony Funnell.
The Technological Incarceration Project (TIP) is being led by Professor Dan Hunter at Swinburne University’s Law School.
“If we had to use human beings, the cost of monitoring every single type of interaction would be prohibitively expensive,” Hunter said.
“But new technologies are now capable of providing automated surveillance at a fraction of that expense,” Future Tense reports.
Hunter and his team of researchers suggest fitting offenders with an electronic bracelet or anklet capable of delivering an incapacitating shock if an algorithm detects that a new crime or violation is about to be committed.
The calculation would be made by a combination of biometric factors, such as voice recognition and facial analysis. Under Hunter’s proposal, the offender and his or her family will bear the main costs of the incarceration and not the state.
The proposal suggests that offenders will be isolated from each other, therefore decreasing the risk of offenders becoming hardened by the system, said the article.
“We are at the point now where we can fundamentally rethink the way in which we incarcerate people,” Hunter said. “If what we want to do is … keep the community safe, if we want to have the greatest possibility of rehabilitation of the offender and if we want to save money, then there are alternatives to prison that actually make a lot of sense.”
In 2016, David Cameron, then the British prime minister, announced a plan that involved the creation of six new “reform prisons” in England and Wales, with an emphasis on developing the sorts of home-detention technologies proposed by TIP.
“I also strongly believe that we must offer chances to change, that for those trying hard to turn themselves around, we should offer hope,” Cameron said, in the article.
Now with Brexit (Britain’s exit from the European Union) and a new prime minister, Theresa May, it’s unclear whether these prison reform proposals will be followed through, the article noted.
“We don’t know where we are at the moment,” said Professor Yvonne Jewkes, a criminologist and prison reform advocate. “I think there is a strong recognition now in the UK that the prison system is bloated and unsustainable.
“We’ve been trying the same model of punishment and incarceration for the last 200 years, and our recidivism rates indicate that it clearly isn’t working,” Jewkes added.
Doran Larson, an American reform advocate, argues that Australian, American and British prisons continue to be disadvantaged because of their focus on the past. In these countries, the justice systems have a long history of favoring retribution over rehabilitation. In fact, the proper practices of law and order are a recurring political issue.
But many prison reformers see another alternative to these forms of incarceration, highlighting the case of Norway’s super-max Halden prison as a model facility. Halden houses high-security inmates, but it’s been designed to be comfortable and visually appealing — natural landscaping and less intimidating buildings make up the premises, the article noted.
Another alternative that exists in Scandinavian countries is the system of “open” prisons, which are low-level security facilities that are not bound by walls.
“They can work during the day, so they can begin to reacquire job skills and even job positions, as well as continuing with whatever programming the institution has assigned to them,” Larson said.
Such facilities offer a reintegration environment for offenders, Larson noted. That means a smoother transition between restricted confinement and the freedom of the outside world.
Larson said the “open” model’s overall success rate is substantial, but also notes that the Scandinavian way isn’t cheap. It suits Scandinavian countries’ style of corrections because they are small, have a high wealth per capita and have lower rates of income inequality.
“Most important is to look at the philosophy and general attitude that stands behind those practices,” added Larson, “an attitude which is forward-looking rather than backward-looking, which is looking toward rehabilitation and restoration rather than retribution.”