As we strive for a more compassionate and effective criminal justice system, the valuable role that technology and innovation has to play cannot be overstated.
Imprisonment is punishment and deterrent, but it is equally important for us to focus on rehabilitation to minimise the chance of reoffending and to ensure successful reintegration into society on release. This can ultimately contribute to safer communities and a more equitable society.
Many challenges are faced by individuals who are imprisoned, including a lack of skills development, learning opportunities, inability to navigate technology and potential stigma when applying for job vacancies. This is where innovation and technology can support the various stakeholders involved in prisoner rehabilitation processes, from individual prison leavers through to the professionals tasked with supporting their rehabilitation.
CGI, a leading global IT and consulting services firm with a Centre of Excellence in Northern Ireland, recognises the importance of working with prison leavers and how successful integration back into the community must be effective. For over 20 years, CGI has been at the forefront of helping the UK justice system to adopt new technology and employ modern, innovative, and robust systems to help transform how justice is administered across the nation.
CGI is heavily committed to corporate social responsibility (CSR), and through its services seeks to support victims, witnesses, and professionals involved in the justice system, as well as supporting successful rehabilitation.
Reintegration challenges posed to the individual
Leaving prison and trying to rejoin society can prove difficult with many challenges and hurdles along the way. However, with support networks delivered through innovative and accessible technology, the integration process can be made easier. These include:
1) E-learning and skills development
We know that individuals who can find employment are half as likely to reoffend as their unemployed peers, however, only 16 per cent of leavers are employed within 12 months of release, thereby highlighting the need to support individuals in their journey. One of the key challenges faced when leaving the prison system is a lack of marketable skills, which hinder their chances of finding meaningful employment. Technology can help bridge this gap by providing access to e-learning platforms that offer a range of educational courses. Individuals can make use of the online courses to acquire valuable skills, certifications, and degrees that enhance their employability upon release. Not only does this prepare them for the job market but can also instil a sense of accomplishment and belonging.
The latest developments in artificial intelligence (AI) make ‘hyper-personalisation’ of training materials possible, to ensure learning reflects individuals’ specific circumstances and needs.
In addition to employment, there are many who lack general life skills and knowledge to help them in the world outside of prison. For example, some may struggle to navigate the property market and how to obtain housing upon release. Others may not be as technically savvy and fully understand how to use the latest technology such as online banking, WhatsApp, video calls and other mobile applications. By integrating help videos and tutorials, these individuals can pick up new skills and be better equipped to integrate successfully back into society.
2) Real-world simulations
With virtual reality (VR) technology, there is the potential to revolutionise rehabilitation by providing realistic simulations of various scenarios that they may encounter upon re-entry into society. This is particularly useful for those with extended prison sentences. Such simulations could include job interviews, social interactions e.g. supermarkets, in the workplace and other everyday situations. By immersing people in these virtual environments, they can develop and practice essential life skills and learnings in a controlled environment.
CGI has experience in such technologies in other settings such as special educational needs, and can vouch for their positive impact in delivering safe spaces to gain new experiences before progressing into the real-world equivalent.
3) Digital job platform
For those with a conviction, finding employment can be daunting, especially with prejudices often acting as barriers to employment.
However, via job placement platforms, employers can access potential candidates based on their skills and qualifications rather than their criminal history. Additionally, online platforms can offer resources such as CV building, tips for interviews and networking opportunities, all of which enhance the chances of securing employment.
CGI is committed to being an inclusive employer and believes in leading positive change in both business and society. In 2023, CGI furthered this commitment by partnering with Breakthrough to provide pre-apprenticeship programmes for prison leavers and those who are at risk of entering the criminal justice system. This eight-week programme supports people as they enter a long term, stable career within the technology and digital industries.
Arguably the biggest challenge comes once people leave prison and transition back to the real-world. It is imperative that they are supported, especially with their mental health. Technology can be a powerful tool in delivering remote counselling and mental health support. Having applications that gives access to timely information ensures that individuals have ongoing support to address any issues and maintain their wellbeing.
There is also the potential for VR to be employed to help individuals manage stress, anxiety and anger through guided simulations and mindfulness exercises.
Personalised rehabilitation programmes are also important in this respect as they create transparency and accountability to the individual. Keeping track of their records can highlight rehabilitation efforts and achievements, and can even proactively help to pinpoint where intervention may be necessary. Powered by technology this helps build trust and provides a measure of the success of reintegration, but also provides extremely beneficial data for future rehabilitation programmes.
Data obtained can be used to improve best practises across the justice system, by highlighting commonalities amongst data sets, for example, is there a certain geographical location where reoffending is higher, are there certain careers where people are not getting job opportunities and so forth.
Having a holistic, streamlined approach that supports information sharing, can accelerate decision-making throughout the criminal justice system, allowing justice to be served quicker.
Technology has the potential to be a transformative force in the successful rehabilitation and reintegration of people with previous justice system history into society. From education and skills development to post-prison mental health support and job placement, the use of technology in the justice system can break down barriers, empower individuals and foster a sense of responsibility, purpose and belonging. CGI is committed to building relationships and fostering a culture of inclusivity. Through innovative technology applications across the justice sector and our continued support for initiatives such as Breakthrough, we believe that together we can create a positive community for everyone.
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