Privately run prison to go high tech

May 2000 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

SA's first privately operated maximum security prison will use voice, retina and fingerprint recognition technology - rather than 'desperate measures' like long periods of solitary confinement or underground internment - to keep the country's most feared criminals behind bars.

Charles Erickson, whose international security company Group 4 Securitas is part of the consortium which has won the contract to build and run Bloemfontein Maximum Security Prison, said methods previously suggested for dealing with serious criminals were created out of desperation.

Group 4 is the top provider of prison services to the British government. It also has prison contracts in Australia.

Development of skills, education, training

Erickson believes that the rehabilitation of prisoners must be seen as 'a major part' of empowerment in SA.

"The development of skills, education, training and entrepreneurial ability for released prisoners is an opportunity which should not be disregarded in the wider context of SA's empowerment goals," he said recently at the signing ceremony of the concession contract, estimated to be worth R1,3bn.

According to the Acting Commissioner of Correctional Services, Thami Nxumalo, the new jail will not accommodate awaiting-trial prisoners or juveniles.

Erickson said there were three main aspects to prison: punishment, deterrent and rehabilitation.

"What use is there in sending anybody to prison if he is going to sit in his cell endlessly and idly? You really have got to try to give him skills. Maybe brush up his education, give him some vocational skills. Give him some social life skills, and then try to mend some of the specific offending behaviours," he said.

Staff at the new prison would work towards these goals through counselling and courses. "By the end of a sentence a prisoner should actually be better equipped to go out and find a job; do some entrepreneurial work, something that enables him to make a choice between a life of crime or no crime," Erickson said.

Technology well proven

Group 4 planned to use 'as many well-proven security systems as possible' to maintain top security.

And technology -- as opposed to the deprivation of human rights - would act as the greatest tool of punishment. For a start, access control systems, closed circuit television, electronically-operated doors and gates made it much more difficult for prisoners to break out, Erickson said.

"There are 500 staff members going in and out of that prison every day, plus hundreds of visitors, plus 3000 prisoners," he said. "You need a massive industrial control panel using voice, retina and fingerprint recognition systems, so that the people coming out are the people you want to come out, not the wrong people." Perimeter security was also very, very important.

"We will have sophisticated alarm systems, detection systems and so on to prevent prisoners from even thinking this might be a route that they might want to take," he said.

Design and management of the prison

In terms of design and management, the prison block would be broken up into six 'house' units, each consisting of eight sections. Dividing the inmates up into 48 sections meant that the office is actually dealing with 60 prisoners at a time, rather than 3000.

Training

Prison warders and guards would be recruited, assessed and trained according to strict international guidelines, about three months prior to the prison opening, Erickson said.

The training course had been adapted for SA, but every aspect of course content would have to be approved by government before application. The quality of training would be monitored by the department to ensure that standards were met, Nxumalo said.

Construction of the prison should have started by the time you read this, and would take about 18 months.

Source: Business Day





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