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Prisons test facial recognition on visitors


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Three prisons have run a series of trials in the use of biometric technology to fight the smuggling of drugs and mobile phones, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has revealed.

HM Prisons Lindholme, Hull and Humber tired out facial recognition and iris scanning systems on visitors in December, following which the Prison Service is now looking at how these and other technologies could be used more widely.

It has come after intelligence work identified a trend of prison visitors supplying illicit items to prisoners. The individuals have been difficult to track as organised criminals may falsify their identity documentation.

Technology from three companies was involved in the trials: IDscan, Facewatch and Tascent. It can highlight people around whom there may be suspicions, enabling staff to refuse entry and providing evidence that could be used in any subsequent investigations by the police or Prison Service.

The MoJ said this can help to target criminal activity and act as a deterrent. One of the prisons recorded a higher number of ‘no shows’ among expected visitors after attendees found the software would be in operation.

Supporting the fight

Justice Secretary David Gauke said: “New technology is vital in our fight against the gangs that seek to cause chaos in prisons, and this biometric equipment has the potential to significantly aid our efforts.

“It forms part of this Government’s multi-million-pound investment to improve the safety and security of our prisons. Alongside our successful officer recruitment drive, measures like this will help make prisons places of rehabilitation where offenders can turn their lives around. This will cut reoffending and make the public safer.”

Some prisons already have fingerprint recognition, but most rely on paper based verification of visitors.

Image by Mambo Z, CC BY 2.0 through flickr

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