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A Prison Without Guards: Where Technology Enhances Operational Effectiveness

From utilising video analytics systems to facial recognition cameras in cells, the Singapore Prison Service is transforming itself into a future-ready correctional service by using technology in its prisons.
As part of its “Prisons Without Guards” concept, the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) is leveraging technology to automate work processes and enhance operational effectiveness in our prisons. Here are five technological initiatives that have been piloted or implemented by the SPS.

1. Detecting “Abnormal Activities” in Cells
A prototype video analytics system called Avatar, which is on trial at a men’s cluster prison cell, alerts Prison officers to abnormal activities in prison cells, such as fights.  The system is being refined to iron out false positives such as inmates exercising in their cells.

The Avatar system uses video analytics to detect abnormal activities in cells. PHOTO: Mabel Yap

Avatar detects abnormal activities such as fights by monitoring erratic or high-intensity movements made by inmates. Previously, Prison officers had to comb through CCTV footage from cells to pick out any instances of fighting (in addition to their other duties such as conducting muster checks to account for all inmates). 

Senior Parliamentary Secretary of Home Affairs Ms Sun Xueling viewing a demo of the Avatar video analytics system. PHOTO: Mabel Yap

2. Facial Recognition Cameras
Currently, muster checks are done manually by Prison officers. Such checks have to be repeated if the institution has multiple inmate movements. But the SPS is looking at automating this process by installing cameras with facial recognition technology.

Located in individual cells, these cameras will capture an image of the inmate’s face, and then verify this against a database. Any discrepancies will be highlighted to Prison officers for further checks.

During trials, this new automated system slashed checking time to about 10 minutes, down from 20–30 minutes when done manually.

3. “Cashless Payments” Using Wrist Tags
Inmates can soon make their own purchases at vending machines by scanning their wrist tags at self-service vending machines. 

Wrist tags, which are worn by inmates, are equipped with Near Field Communication (NFC) chips that store information, such as their weekly spending allowance. By scanning these tags, inmates are able to select the items they want, with the cost automatically deducted from their allowance. This removes the need for Prison officers to manually collate, purchase and distribute the inmates’ orders.
Scan and go: This process is similar to cashless payment systems. Inmates can choose from a variety of items such as snacks, soap and stamps. PHOTO: Mabel Yap

The NFC wrist tags are also part of a larger Digital Rehabilitation Records Management System (DRRMS) which tracks an inmate’s attendance at work as well as counselling and rehabilitation programmes. The data collected via the wrist tags will help Prison officers better understand an inmate’s rehabilitation progress, thereby bolstering the SPS’ intervention efforts.

The DRRMS allows Prison officers to monitor an inmate’s rehabilitation and to provide better interventions when required. PHOTO: Mabel Yap

4. Using Tablets for Studies and Communication
Tablets equipped with apps will soon be able to help inmates in their rehabilitation journey. Known as the Digitisation of Inmate Rehabilitation and Corrections Tool (DIRECT), these shared tablets include apps such as e-books, e-news, e-letters and e-learning.

This handy device replaces hardcopy materials (such as inmates’ letters and reading materials, including books and newspapers) with electronic versions, thereby reducing risks associated with smuggling contraband items into prison. 

Learning resource: One of the study apps available on DIRECT. PHOTO: Mabel Yap

Inmates can use the tablets to access self-learning materials such as Workforce Skills Qualifications and literacy programmes. The tablets also serve as study aids for those taking their GCE “N”, “O” and “A” Level examinations.

 DIRECT also serves as a convenient platform for inmates to connect with their family members by allowing them to craft letters on the go. E-letters also have a shorter processing time of about four days, as opposed to handwritten ones, which can take several weeks. 

5. Putting the “I” in iKiosk
An SPS officer demonstrating how the iKiosk is used. The iKiosk can also broadcast notices and information on new rehabilitation programmes and training courses. PHOTO: Mabel Yap

Rolled out to all institutions in October 2015, iKiosk has multiple functions that allow inmates to perform self-service tasks. This includes submitting administrative requests (for example, asking for extra letter-writing materials), checking the status of these requests and redeeming privileges.

Written by

Muhamad Khair


6 July 2018

Prisons Management and Rehabilitation
Science and Technology
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