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Crime in Hong Kong

Hong Kong prisons to test new CCTV system that can detect suspicious behaviour by inmates

  • Computer video analysis will help spot erratic or aggressive motions and send alert to staff
  • New tool part of ‘smart prison’ push to modernise city’s correctional facilities
PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 November, 2018, 2:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 November, 2018, 11:09pm

Hong Kong prisons are set to test a new system within the next two months that can detect suspicious behaviour by inmates.

The “smart prison” project – a move to modernise the city’s correctional facilities – was one of the initiatives Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor raised in her policy address last month.

Revealing more details in the Legislative Council on Friday morning, security minister John Lee Ka-chiu said prisons would install a new CCTV system with a video analytics function that could detect erratic and aggressive motions by prisoners, looking out for fights and suicide attempts.

When suspicious movement was detected, the system would send an alert to prison staff.

“If there is a fight in the canteen, the motion would be different from the quiet state, like in usual circumstances,” Lee said.

“Experts gathered lots of data and input it into the system so that the computer can analyse [the captured motion]. The authorities can draw manpower instantly and intervene in a fight if notified about abnormal behaviour.”

Prison officers currently monitor inmates via frequent patrols and by watching real-time CCTV footage.

A government source said the upgraded surveillance system did not mean a “guard-free prison” – the new tool was meant to enhance prison management, not replace staff.

Hong Kong’s prison system explained

“Correctional officers currently sit in front of the CCTV monitors and focus on every image. They will still be in the seat after the systems upgrade. But the super computer would be more sensitive and could pick up abnormal events more quickly,” the source said.

“It serves as another [set of] eyes and ears.”

A spokeswoman for the Correctional Services Department confirmed to the Post that the authority planned to conduct a trial in several night cells of Pik Uk Prison, a minimum security institution in Sai Kung for adults, by end of this year.

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Lee said in Legco that the authorities had consulted the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data and added that the technology would not breach any privacy laws.

Singapore began a trial of a similar surveillance system at Changi Prison earlier this year. The human behaviour detection system, called Avatar, also applies video analytics algorithms to inmate motion.

Another IT upgrade in Hong Kong prisons would be the introduction of “smart wristbands” in medical wards to keep track of prisoners’ vital signs.

“The trial will commence in early 2019 … [the wristband] can monitor the pulse rates of persons in custody admitted to the hospital of Lo Wu Correctional Institution. It will help staff on duty monitor [inmates’] physical condition,” the spokeswoman added.