Innovation and changeGovernment TechnologyFacial recognition tech trialled at prisons

Facial recognition tech trialled at prisons

Iris scanning and facial recognition biometric technology have been successfully trialed at three prisons to halt the prison drug supply

Justice Secretary David Gauke has confirmed the successful trial of a biometric technology at three prisons.

This facial recognition technology can identify visitors who may be trafficking drugs into prisons. The technology includes iris scanning and facial recognition software.

The trials

The biometric technology has been tested at three jails, HMP Hull, Humber and Lindholme and is part of a wider crackdown on drugs and violence in prisons. The UK Ministry of Justice (MoJ) conducted the tests in December and January. ID scan, Facewatch, and Tascent were the three types of technologies that were trialled.

The other measures utilised by authorities include security scanners, drug search teams, digital technology to identify criminal kingpins and a Financial Crime Unit with the power to freeze suspect bank accounts linked to prisoners.

In an announcement, 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.”

This development comes at the backdrop of the ‘10 Prisons Project’ announced by Prisons Minister Rory Stewart on 17 August 2018. The new £10 million package of investment has been used to:

  • Curb the flow of drugs and phones into prisons – £6 million has been designated to tackle drug supply by enhancing physical security at the jails; with investment in drug-detection dogs, body scanners, and improved perimeter defences.
  • Improve safety and decency – there will be a focus on standardising residential areas inside the prisons. £3 million will support this through targeted improvements to the fabric of each establishment, ensuring that living conditions meet new standards of decency and cleanliness that are to be drawn up as part of the plan.
  • Develop new standards of leadership – £1 million will fund bespoke training programmes and interventions to give governors the support they need to drive improvement at their prisons. They will have the opportunity to call on former officers and governors who will share best practice from their years of experience. A staff college model, inspired by the military, will be developed for Governors. More junior uniformed staff will be given the support and confidence to challenge disruptive behaviour.

After these trials were announced, there were more “no shows” from visitors than usual at one prison. As a result, some visitors turned back after finding out facial matching software was in use.

Staffing levels have been their highest since 2012, with more than 4,300 recruited since October 2016.

The backlash

The Big Brother Watch group has launched a legal challenge to police plans to use automatic facial recognition in public places.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive, Howard League for Penal Reform said: “If families and children are being deterred from visiting, that would be counterproductive. We need to see more of the evidence behind this apparent deterrent effect.”

The government’s experimental approach to human rights has been questioned. They are trying to win public acceptance for facial recognition cameras in controlled environments such as prisons. Posts this, they will use them as a general public surveillance tool.

Technology and policing

Post all the criticism for the Facial Recognition Technology trails by privacy rights campaigners, an independent Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group had published ethical principles to guide police facial recognition trials.

Last year Professor Andrew Charlesworth, University of Bristol, pointed out that the law is lagging well behind developments in surveillance technologies such as Automated Facial Recognition (AFR), which was already deployed in some areas of the UK and was the subject of two court cases.

Recently, the UK Police got cloud-based crime solving analytical tools that will help them solve crimes.

Currently, most of the prisons widely used paper-based verification and fingerprint recognition. These are not only slow and resource intensive, but also open to abuse by contraband traffickers. Advanced level biometric technology helps prison staff to identify visitors using applications based around document validation.

Last year, prison staff seized more than 23,000 drugs and mobile phones. This is an increase of almost 4,000 from the previous year. The new biometric technology will help in efforts to reduce drug use in prison, which drives up violence and self-harm.

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