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Countries should prepare for prisons’ digital transformation, senior CoE official tells CNA 

May 25, 2019 at 4:23pm
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Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly entering all spheres of life and prisons are part of this process, says Jan Kleijssen, Director at the Council of Europe’s Information Society and Action against Crime Directorate.

Kleijssen, who was recently in Ayia Napa to attend the 24th Council of Europe (CoE) Conference of Directors of Prison and Probation Services, told the Cyprus News Agency that prison and probation services need to be ready for the transformation this is going to cause to their organisational and managerial structures very soon.

He says moreover that countries need to evaluate their needs, their mission and their organisational reform to meet this digital transformation.

Asked to provide a few examples of how advanced technology may transform prisons, he says, among others, that AI can help alleviate the repetitive everyday tasks like opening and closing doors, monitoring of suspicious behaviour (self-destructive or aggressive) and preventing smuggling of illegal objects, along with improving and enhancing remote contacts with the families and preparing for new employment opportunities after release.

“What is more important, it can help free more quality time for interaction between staff and prisoners because only a positive human contact, based on high professional ethics can change a prisoner`s life” Kleijssen says, adding that a machine cannot do it.

The senior Council of Europe official was also asked about the penitentiary reform in Cyprus, noting that it has brought many positive results.

“I am confident Cyprus is on the right track” he says. He notes moreover that as Minister of Justice Ionas Nicolaou told conference participants, more than 60% of the prisoners are enrolled in educational activities, which is the highest percentage in Europe. Knowledge and learning are the most important factors in inducing change in a human being, Kleijssen remarks.

Asked about prison overcrowding in Europe today, the senior official says that at least one third of member states suffer from this problem and a few more have their prisons almost at their full capacity. Kleijssen points to a high-level Conference, organised in Strasbourg last month, where a dialogue and cooperation among judges, prosecutors, Ministries of Justice, prison and probation services was initiated.

“We urged them to agree on short and long-term strategies at national level to deal with prison overcrowding” he says.

Among others, he notes that overcrowding may be due to long court proceedings which congest pre-trail detention centres, to excessively long prison sentences, to little use of alternatives to custody at pre-trial and post-sentencing stages, to scarce use and of conditional release, or to high numbers of foreigners in prison, who are not eligible for community sanctions and measures.

Kleijssen was also asked about SPACE II, a survey unveiled at the Ayia Napa conference, saying that Cyprus has a probation population rate which is below European average. The Head of the Information Society and Action against Crime Directorate says in this respect that Cyprus has started developing its probation service not so long ago and needs time to function at its full capacity.

Moreover, he says that judges and prosecutors need to be convinced of its efficiency and it also needs public trust and media support. “The Cypriot authorities are aware of the need to develop community sanctions and measures and to ensure the public protection in parallel and are taking the necessary steps in this direction” he adds.

He also notes the support expressed by Minister Nicolaou at the opening of the 24th Council of Europe Conference of the Directors of Prison and Probation Services regarding the better use of such sanctions and measures and regarding the measures taken for investing in prisoners’ preparation for release by offering educational and other meaningful activities and treatment programmes in prison.

“There are many benefits of investing in alternatives to detention” says Kleijssen, adding that they cost less, the suspect or the offender do not lose their employment, housing and family contacts, while there is no need for big investments in their resocialisation as they remain part of society.

(Cyprus News Agency)

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