For the safety of prisoners and control over their behavior, the prison of the future will use a smart video surveillance system, special bracelets with sensors and robots to search for drugs in excrement.
Ensuring the safety and appropriate behavior of prisoners when they are in prison is not an easy task, because among the main threats are drug smuggling, fights with other prisoners and even self-harm. To maintain order in prisons, the Hong Kong authorities have developed a plan to use robots, smart cameras, bracelets and other high-tech devices.
On February 14, Hong Kong's Correctional Services Department (CSD) announced plans to develop a "smart prison system." The first step will be to test several technologies on a small scale, after which they will be introduced everywhere, if they prove themselves properly. According to the South China Morning Post, one of these technologies is a robotic arm that sifts through the excrement of recently admitted inmates for smuggled items, primarily drugs. The technology will come in handy: earlier this task was performed by prison officers using special wooden sticks. The cost of this technology reaches 130 thousand dollars, and its tests will take place in the second quarter of this year.
Another innovation will be a bracelet for tracking body indicators and the location of prisoners, reminiscent of fitness bracelets. The device will also alert guards about the slightest change in the prisoner's well-being, including signs that the prisoner may have injured himself.
Drug detection robotic arm being tested at Pik Uk prison / © Dickson Lee
Special video surveillance systems will also keep order in correctional facilities. One institution, Pik Uk Prison, is already testing a similar smart system: 12 cameras have “video analytic monitoring” functions that can detect inappropriate behavior and automatically alert guards. Despite the practical benefits, such solutions raise some ethical controversy. For example, two cameras used in Pik Uk Prison are located in prison rooms, and although the prison claims that parts of the toilet video are “hidden”, it remains unclear how the monitoring takes place during this time period.
CCTV system in a prison toilet with some hidden areas / © Dickson Lee
The bracelets also caused a discussion: for example, some officials doubted how the data would be stored and used and whether the guards would abuse their information and position, because this is a very delicate issue. The use of robots instead of people with sticks to search for drugs in feces has not caused any controversy.
Smart prison technology is being tested at Pik Uk Prison / © Dickson Lee
The average daily correctional population in Hong Kong last year was 8,303, slightly less than 8,529 in 2017. In 2018, two Hong Kong prisoners committed suicide and 48 others seriously injured themselves, so if the Hong Kong Department of Corrections can balance prisoners' privacy and security, the technology under development could be the prototype for smart prisons of the future.