NSW has given maximum security inmates touch screens in open plan prison


There’s currently a prison “crisis” in New South Wales, which according to NSW Department of Justice CIO Aaron Liu, is the result of the inmate population exploding and prisons being stretched to the limit.

The solution, Liu said, was to put digital technologies at the forefront, while also addressing rehabilitation and working on preventing reoffending.

In 12 months, the state government built its first Rapid Build prison in Wellington, 362 kilometres west of Sydney. The second, the Hunter Correctional Centre in Cessnock, officially opened last year after another 12-month build.

“These are maximum security facilities and these facilities are a dormitory style, so rather than locking an inmate in an individual cell, they’re in an open dorm,” Liu told the Australian Information Industry Association NSW Government Briefing in Sydney on Friday.

There’s a kiosk and a bed, which Liu said was “kind of like a very un-luxurious Emirates lounge”.

Each inmate is assigned his own cubicle within an open-plan 25-bed dormitory. Correctional officers observe multiple dormitories from an upper tier. Each dormitory has its own showers, toilets, kitchenette, telephones, and yard.

The personal kiosk is what the inmate uses to plan their “education, work assignment, rehabilitation programs, and other paperwork”. This approach, the state government explains, better prepares inmates for progression to minimum security and, ultimately, their return to the community.

“It’s a very unique environment because we then need to supply them with activities, such as those available on the screen to do things like drug and alcohol education programs on a touch screen, access to services through that in order to keep them busy,” Liu added. “It requires the technology to work.”

According to Liu, technology enabled the prison to be built quickly and has also allowed for a reduced staff footprint.

Where prevention is concerned, Liu said there is also work underway to leverage the data already held by the department and other state agencies, 

“Prevention is very much part of the journey and there’s been a bit of nascent work — we’re still at the early end of the maturity curve around that, around system-wide analytics, around the criminal justice system. We’re looking at what are the levers that actually drive reducing crime and reducing the impact of crime,” he explained.

He said some of that data is being used to map out certain areas, but the challenge, Liu said, is enabling the required parties with more data and more tools to deliver an appropriate outcome.

The initiatives form part of the department’s 2015-2020 digital strategy, which also sees it toy with the idea of new and emerging technologies — such as blockchain and algorithmic approaches to services — at the other end of its remit: Births, deaths, and marriages.

With the birth certificate process now digitised, by matching data from various departments such as health to remove the need for a child to be physically registered when born, the state has now focused its attention on death. Specifically, making the process of notifying all relevant parties of the passing of a family member or close friend easier.

“We’ve just exited quite an extensive set of work around death of a loved one, how that interacts with health, with trust in government … and then spiralling into industry, how do you close a bank account, facilitate things like insurance,” Liu explained. “Those are fairly painful processes for citizens — that’s what’s being explored at the moment.”

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