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New ‘smart’ prison utilises digital technology


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Justice Minister Dominic Raab visiting HMP Five Wells
Image source: GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0 - Justice Minister Dominic Raab (left) visiting HMP Five Wells

Britain’s first ‘smart’ prison has opened using digital technology as part of its effort to rehabilitate offenders.

HMP Five Wells, a category C prison in Northamptonshire, is said to be the first to be designed with education, training and jobs for prisoners on release as its main purposes.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has highlighted the provision of tablet computers to prisoners to access education and learning and maintain contact with their families from their cells.

These are subject to security measures of having access to a predetermined list of websites, with firewalls blocking any activity that is not specifically loaded onto the table through menu choices, education courses and inventory of the prison shop.

All activity on the tablets is monitored and they can be removed if the users do not follow protocols.

Preparation for release

Director at HMP Five Wells, John McLaughlin said: "The purpose of Five Wells is to provide the men with an environment which can prepare them for their release.

“Some of the men at Five Wells will have been in prison for many years and will not be familiar with technological advances. This is why innovations like the tablets are really important to help familiarise the men with technology that many of us on the outside take for granted."

The MoJ also pointed to the use of body scanners in the prison that use low level radiation, similar to an x-ray, to reveal any illicit items secreted by a prisoner.

Another element of Five Wells is X-shaped blocks with wider, shorter corridors and fewer prisoners on each wing so frontline staff can see all cells and offenders quickly at any time.

The cells have ultra-secure, bar-less windows to prevent drones bringing in drugs, phones and weapons.

Around 200 offenders are now in the prison and it will hold around 1,700 at full capacity. It is being run by 4GS for the MoJ under a 10-year contract.

It is the first of six to be constructed under a £4 billion programme.

In December of last year the MoJ promised a major investment in digital facilities as part of its Prison Strategy White Paper.



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