A Tale of Two Cities

By Simon Howson-Green
Canada’s prison services could hold the keys to unlock the digital future for cities across the globe in the 21st Century?

Canada’s prison services could hold the keys to unlock the digital future for cities across the globe in the 21st Century? Colin Smith from Cistel Technology and Simon Bonk from the CSC think so. 

The Pandemic is focusing minds. Innovation and digital migration move at a far faster pace because of Covid. 

Colin Smith puts it like this: ‘We went to bed feeling unwell in 2020 and we woke up in 2030.’

Whatever your take on the Coronavirus journey it has forced many public institutions and private businesses rethink on a seismic scale. That includes the Correctional Services of Canada (CSC). 

Simon Bonk from CSC compares its Prisons to huge, vibrant cities. They need a healthcare, sanitation, and a welfare infrastructure; the population needs to be fed, kept warm, educated, and protected. ‘The only real difference is the inhabitants cannot leave,’ says Bonk.

Take that argument further and Bonk says the work being done by CSC has the potential to impact the way some services could be delivered within the municipal context. ‘If a service delivery model is successful with corrections, perhaps it can be used as a proof of concept for something on the municipal scale’ says Bonk. This is the digital age in action.

‘Traditionally, I’ve always seen public services as importers of technological innovation. But now I’m thinking things could move in the opposite direction,’ says Bonk.

‘It is a very real possibility the corrections model – especially in terms of the technology it uses and how that technology needs to be highly robust and error free – could drive and inspire large tech gains in the outside world. 

‘I don’t want to overstate but we are examining ways for corrections institutions to be used to pilot new technologies or methods for service delivery that could be scaled up for municipalities.  Correctional institutions could be used as a test bed for some of these ideas and would be an ideal low-risk scenario.’

Testing new technologies in prisons means exposing offenders to these technologies, which could in turn be part of the prep to reintroduce them into society and that notion of normalcy links in nicely here.

But the CSC cannot do this alone. It needs strong and highly collaborative partners it can trust. 

This is where Colin Smith and Cistel Technology come in. Smith is the Principal Consultant for Microsoft Solutions Practice at Cistel Technology.  

‘It’s not just about the technology.’ Says Smith.  ‘It’s about enabling the business of corrections. It’s an exacting business with its own stresses, strains and challenges.’ It’s about really understanding this business with twenty thousand employees and tens of thousands of “guests”. 

‘We effectively run 43 hospitals across the country,’ adds Simon Bonk. ‘Corrections is a unique business. We have a duty of care for those who live in our institutions, also to our staff and our stakeholders so when IT systems go down lives are at stake.’

Bonk concedes that CSC has been a later starter. ‘We have walls three feet thick and a century old. Wi-Fi is not enough. We need to be far more innovative with the way we monitor, gather data and run multi-level systems.’

CSC, with the help of its longtime partner Cistel Technology is embracing IoT. They both call this the modernization of corrections.

Cistel Technology has been in the cloud since 2014. CSC is a recent migrant. Together, with the added pressure of the pandemic, minds have been even more focused on the future and delivering IT solutions faster than ever. Both agree that this approach is creating ideas and opportunities which could go beyond the prison service. 

‘These challenges have crystalized the thinking within our organization,’ says Bonk. ‘There is a real opportunity – not just our bricks and mortar strategy but also our digital infrastructure and our cultural evolution. Cistel Technology is turning this vision into a reality. 

Smith explains how: 

‘Our R&D department is a trailblazer. We are developing sensor networks, tracking and location services using IoT thinking. Initially this was for disaster mitigation to help first responders.

‘Now, this thinking and technology is finding a place in the corrections and incarceration business. There are innovative ways to use the intelligent edge of IoT to ensure the safety of inmates in different ways. 

Bonk cites the routine but continual and vital process of bed checks. ‘Low emission blue tooth and sensors to monitor provide early indications of any inmate in distress. This means warders can carry out other tasks instead of doing time inefficient “rounds”. 

Another technology Cistel Technology and CSC is developing is handheld devices linked to RFID which improve reporting and monitoring across a range of duties and responsibilities. 

Read the full CSC report HERE

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