Finland became one of the first countries to introduce internet access in prisons in 2015. Since then, all the country’s prisons have been equipped with computers, between 2 and 20 depending on the unit and installed in common rooms.
The Finnish government decided to allow Internet access to apply the standardisation principle. This principle consists in aligning prison life as closely as possible with life in the free world so that prisoners do not experience too much upheaval once released.
However, prisoners only have access to the Internet under certain conditions. Prisoners must request to access the Internet for reasons deemed important, such as education, professional life or legal defence.
The results of this scheme remain mixed. A survey carried out in 2019 among 200 prisoners showed that 80 of them had never used this service because they did not know how to use the computer equipment provided or were not informed of the existence of these computers.
To remedy this situation, a pilot prison has been built, the Hämeelinna Smart Prison, which opened in 2020. What’s special about this prison is that each of its 100 cells is equipped with a computer, and inmates receive training to improve their computer skills.
According to Pia Puolakka, head of the Smart Prison project, the system has succeeded so far. Despite some technical and adjustment problems in the first few months, feedback from female prisoners is generally very positive.
On the staff side, opinions are more mixed. Prison officers fear a gradual dehumanization of their relations with inmates, too much time spent on control screens, and a possible erosion of security.
These fears don’t seem to be dampening the ambitions of prison administrations, since the use of new technologies in the prison system is booming, and projects around this subject are springing up all over the place.
In 3 other Finnish prisons, virtual reality is currently being tested. The aim is to soothe inmates by immersing them in a calming universe to prevent violence or reduce the stress induced by incarceration. The technology is primarily used in therapeutic settings for psychological follow-up. But “we plan to use it for other purposes too,” explains Pia Puolakka, “for example, with role-playing exercises to learn how to manage stressful or aggressive situations, or to test openness to the outside world”.
Another project currently under consideration is the use of artificial intelligence to better manage inmates. The aim of the project is to help assess prisoners’ situations, to better guide them in the execution of their sentences and offer them prison services that are as close as possible to their needs. The project is due to be launched in at least one year’s time, and will be the subject of an in-depth reliability study before going live.