Mother Jones Illustration.

New technologies are constantly developing in increasingly diverse fields, including government activities. In this sense, new technologies are now being used in prisons for different purposes.  

Using AI to detect risk behaviours in prison: 

At the beginning of 2019, the Chinese government has set up technological tools in 3 prisons in Hong Kong and Yangshen to monitor prisoners. This includes connected bracelets that detects acceleration of the heart rate and inmates’ location within the prison. This data is then analyzed by an artificial intelligence system capable of detecting anomalies in order to prevent the risk of figh, riot or escape. This system is coupled with the massive installation of cameras in prisons that allow facial recognition.

The system was developed by a public research institute at Tianjin University and Tiandy, a surveillance technology firm. If the results are conclusive, China would like to install them in all Hong Kong prisons.

Using facial recognition to prevent contraband:

One of the major issues in prisons is the trafficking of illegal goods in prisons via visitors. Visitors often falsify their identity documents, making it difficult to identify these people. Thus, facial recognition is used to combat drug trafficking in prisons and the smuggling of illegal objects.  In Liverpool prinson (UK), an experimental phase took place in March 2018 using a technology including iris scanning and facial recognition developed by Aviglion Corporation. Facial recognition allows staff to identify suspicious visitors and collaborate with police services, and is part of a broader framework of drug control, improved rehabilitation and public safety.

For the British government, these tests were extremely positive and relevant.

Using AI to detect secret codes in inmates’ phone calls:

In prison, since telephone conversations are monitored, inmates have developed secret codes that allow them to discuss illegal topics such as smuggling inside the prison or illegal business involving inmates outside the prison. These codes evolve very quickly and their detection takes a lot of time for the guards. Since 2016, a US prison has implemented a system based on artificial intelligence to detect these secret codes and alerts guards. The system, developed by London-based Intelligent Voice, analyzes voice conversations and establishes a database to determine unusual words and phrases that are then communicated to guards for special attention. 

The first tests concluded at a software accuracy rate of 88%, which is much better than the human score.

The advantages of using AI:

  • Improved inmates surveillance: Connected surveillance systems allow better control of prisoners and can prevent certain violent behaviour by deterring it.
  • Strengthen the security of guards and prisoners: the various systems put in place make it possible to anticipate violent behaviour by inmates towards other inmates and by prisoners towards guards.
  • Improvement of agents’ work: the systems mentioned allow employees to save working time. Instead of replacing staff, these technologies free up them from repetitive and boring tasks to save time working with inmates and allow them to have more social interactions.
  • Cost reduction: Reducing riots, damage to equipment and personal injuries through increased surveillance could reduce prison spending in the medium-term.

Nevertheless, the implementation of artificial intelligence in prisons raises many questions. Protecting the privacy of visitors and inmates is a key issue. In addition, these technologies are not flawless and the risks of discrimination or errors associated with the algorithm used must be taken into account in their use. Finally, the data collected massively by these systems can be hacked, so the security of these is essential and prison staff must be trained to use them properly.

Laeticia Dimanche
Master 2 Cyberjustice – Promotion 20182019

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