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Prisons turn to data analytics for prisoner rehab in Singapore

Supporting officers in day-to-day operations, the system also allows them to generate statistics and reports to give insights into, and analysis of, trends

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 April, 2017, 2:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 April, 2017, 2:31pm

By Kenneth Ng

Prison officers in Singapore will increasingly be less occupied with watching over their charges and focus instead on “higher-order” work, geared towards rehabilitating prisoners, as the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) taps technology to automate processes.

This includes tapping data analytics to grasp the rehabilitative needs and progress of inmates, to minimise their risk of re-offending.

The Digital Rehabilitation Records Management System — one of the initiatives unveiled yesterday at the yearly workplan seminar of the SPS and the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises — tracks the attendance records of inmates at work, counselling and rehabilitation programmes.

The system does this by lodging a near-field-communication technology chip in prisoners’ wrist-tags. The system is being tested in Institution B3 at the Changi Prison Complex, and the goal is to expand it to other prisons next year.

Right now, officers take attendance manually and tracking such data is “very cumbersome” and labour-intensive, said Senior Assistant Commissioner (SAC) Koh Tong Hai, SPS director of transformation and 

There were times when analysis of the data was not available too, he added.

Besides attendance records, the SPS will also look at other factors to grasp the inmate’s needs, risk patterns and progress, including family issues and pressure from peers who may cause them to re-offend.

With such information, data analytics would allow it to tailor an evidence-based approach and use appropriate intervention efforts.

Speaking at the seminar, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that in many places, technological use, including radio-frequency identification, obviates the need for prison officers to watch or be around inmates “all the time”.

“(There are) areas where there’s ‘self-supervision’, but they’re being monitored through technology,” he said.

“That’ll really help our officers free up their time to ... do other things, and help with the manpower crunch.”

In the middle of this year, the SPS will also test at Changi Women’s Prison the millimetre-wave body scanner to screen and discover objects concealed in clothing.

Using low-power millimetre-wave radio-frequency technology, the scanner will cut the reliance on physical searches, and raise security by detecting the smuggling of contraband items. Meanwhile, prison officers are now armed with mobile devices that allow them to access data on inmates within prison grounds, while away from their desks.

This heightens their “situational awareness of and responses to ground operations”, the SPS said.

This feature came after a prison-management system was upgraded in September. Supporting officers in day-to-day operations, the system also allows them to generate statistics and reports to give insights into, and analysis of, trends.

Tanah Merah Prison has also started rolling out tablets to inmates so they can undertake more learning on their own, and this could be extended to all prisoners in future, Mr Shanmugam noted.

These technological initiatives are part of efforts to transform Home Team departments to tackle evolving challenges by 2025.

Prisons turn to data analytics for prisoner rehab