Pedro das Neves: The Power of Technology in the Prison SystemVeronica Khaikin and Elaina Falcone Antonello
Pedro das Neves is the CEO of IPS Innovative Prison Systems, a research and consulting firm specializing in justice and correctional services. He is the Executive Director of ICJS Innovative Criminal Justice Inc., a Canadian firm that focuses on advisory, design, integration, and delivery of innovative organizational and technological solutions in the criminal justice sector. Pedro is also the Founder and Editor of JUSTICE TRENDS Magazine, featuring content on innovation and best practices in the criminal justice system. With over 20 years of experience in public administration reform, Pedro sat down with us to discuss a new offender management system at IPS and the future of technological integration in the criminal justice system.
The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you become involved in the criminal justice and corrections space? What was your motivation to get involved?
PEDRO: Becoming involved in criminal justice and corrections came about through a very intense personal experience. I first got involved in this area as a volunteer. The local priest, a family friend and prison chaplain, invited me to visit my hometown prison. I was 16 years old. I used to play my guitar, and with some friends, we entertained during special occasions at community organizations. These visits were my initial introduction to prison. You don’t forget the first time you enter a prison. It is impossible to forget the sound of the keys and the slamming of the iron doors that open and close behind you. It is also impossible to forget the lives of those detained and incarcerated and the staff working there daily.
At 18, I stopped visiting the prison, and at 29, I returned as a Professional Management Advisor. Since then, I have had the opportunity to professionally visit more than 1300 prisons in 45 countries, working on different research and consulting assignments focused on modernizing criminal justice systems, with a strong focus on prisons and probation.
Tell us about IPS Innovative Prison Systems.
PEDRO: IPS Innovative Prison Systems (operating as ICJS Innovative Criminal Justice Solutions Inc. in North America) was designed as a boutique research and advisory firm specializing in justice, prison services, community sanctions and measures, juvenile justice, and law enforcement. We develop research and provide advisory services to governments and international multilateral organizations, promoting fair, effective, and proportionate evidence-based responses to criminal justice issues worldwide. Our specialized internal portfolio teams work with criminal justice agencies and stakeholders on complex issues such as rehabilitation, reintegration, and community interventions; radicalization, extremism, and organized crime; international judicial cooperation and human rights; correctional staff management and development; and organizational design and digital transformation. So far, IPS has developed more than 75 multiannual projects involving 56 countries as partners.
Apart from our research and advisory work, we publish JUSTICE TRENDS Magazine. It is a premium print and online magazine featuring exclusive content such as interviews with Ministers of Justice, Directors-General of Prison and Probation Administrations, and articles on pressing global criminal justice topics. Thanks to partners such as MHS, the magazine is distributed for free in 120 countries worldwide. We also offer an online training platform with real-time and self-paced programs called the Corrections Learning Academy. Our training platform makes knowledge we’ve developed working with various jurisdictions worldwide available to any corrections professional.
Part of IPS Innovative Prison Systems includes an offender management system offering (currently under development), HORUS 360 iOMS. How does it improve prison operations and offender rehabilitation compared to traditional prison management systems?
PEDRO: The first generation of offender and jail management systems were implemented in the mid-1990s. These “legacy systems” were custom developed and based on complex and heavy databases. In their current form, these systems are outdated and far from responding to the management needs of modern penitentiary and reintegration organizations. These legacy offender management systems (OMS’) satisfy the basic functions of recording and consulting data for which they were originally designed, and their evolution or interaction with other more recent systems is difficult, expensive, or even unfeasible. High maintenance costs, data silos that prevent integration between modules or systems, non-compliance with recent regulations, and security problems are just some challenges this type of system poses that persist in many countries.
As HORUS 360 iOMS includes leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to help streamline the offender management process, what advantages do you foresee in its adoption for the organizations that leverage it?
PEDRO: The application of AI has assumed a relevant role in decision support in diverse areas. These tools can provide decision support for various purposes, such as preventing recidivism or reducing the risk of suicide. There are also existing studies emphasizing the potential for bias and discrimination issues. Despite this, industrial research in this area is still sparse. Over the last few years, we have focused our attention on how AI can be used in corrections. Not very well understood by many, AI is a crucial instrument to help streamline the offender management process.
With the HORUS 360 iOMS, we’ve focused on data design and the data gathering process, ensuring that the data collected will help us respond not only to the questions we have today but eventually to the questions we will need to answer in the future.
Currently, we use AI models to recommend the allocation of inmates to the most suitable detention facility or to identify the most appropriate rehabilitation programs based on inmate risk and needs profile and the available capacity and profile of the detention institution. By analyzing the data required to support current operations and broader societal goals, such as reducing risk, promoting rehabilitation, lowering recidivism rates, and minimizing the cost of crime, we are actively working towards creating safer societies in the future.
In what ways can the HORUS 360 iOMS system contribute to improving the rehabilitation of offenders and enhancing community safety globally?
PEDRO: The evidence-based assessment of an individual’s recidivism risk and needs are a major concern for judicial decision-makers and practitioners in the prison and probation systems. As mentioned above, high levels of recidivism have very high social costs and reveal the inefficiency of prison and probation systems and social support systems and structures for socially vulnerable people.
Assessing individuals who have committed offenses and implementing interventions to promote behavioral change and reduce the risk of reoffending is crucial for effective prison management. This supports judicial release decisions, reduces prison population, and ensures appropriate supervision levels in the community, while also enhancing the effectiveness of treatment programs.
Horus 360 iOMS enables risk and needs assessments by systematically incorporating relevant information, providing tailored recommendations for individuals. Its predictive analysis capabilities assist in projecting prison population and individuals under non-custodial measures, enabling effective planning of detention spaces and resource optimization for community-based measures. By identifying low-risk individuals suitable for community measures, it contributes to reducing the prison population while recommending appropriate treatment programs for effective rehabilitation and reintegration.
How do you envision technology continuing to shape the future of the criminal justice system?
PEDRO: The role of technology is significant in modern corrections. The pandemic and the restrictions on movement for those who have offended, visitors, and staff have created a unique opportunity for correctional services to reconsider their practices and find alternative ways to fulfill their mission. The changes that have occurred during this time are unparalleled.
Besides using new security technologies, many jurisdictions implemented “general use” of correctional professional technology solutions. Incarcerated individuals were allowed to be in frequent contact with their families, permitting video visitation, virtual court hearing solutions, telemedicine, and e-learning. Most of us experienced or witnessed the advantages of using these tools as part of the “new normal.”
Unfortunately, for various jurisdictions, as the pandemic restrictions were lifted, the window of opportunity opened by the policy responses to COVID-19 was ultimately abandoned by correctional agencies. In the digital era, if we’re not moving forward, we stay behind, making the digital divide between jurisdictions more and more obvious. Digital technologies present significant opportunities for correctional agencies to deliver the traditional correctional value proposition or create new ones. With a focus on improving operational excellence or supporting rehabilitation, digital technologies are critical to ensure that the corrections operational backbone is prepared to face present and future challenges.
In order to keep up with the sector’s innovative advancements, there is a need to develop a solution that integrates data from various sources, commonly known as “data fusion.” This integration is crucial for generating consistent and reliable databases, essential for analysis and predictive modeling. Combining data fusion and AI-driven predictive analysis enables a comprehensive analysis that helps ensure fair decision-making by minimizing subjective judgments, bias, or prejudice. It serves as a support tool for professionals and prison administrators without replacing their role in making informed decisions.
What are the overall benefits of increased technological integration? Can you speak to how technology will enhance equity, rehabilitation, and bias reduction – especially in countries who may not be able to “afford” big changes
PEDRO: The push for digital transformation in the public sector has delivered high gains in efficiency and effectiveness, as it does in private industry and services. This process, although disruptive, has been relatively slow in more traditional, hierarchical, and complex organizations. Prison services are a paradigmatic case: often underfunded in the annual state budgets and averse to risk, they lack modernization in most countries.
Traditional management models in public sector organizations without integrated reporting can create information blockages, making it hard to monitor the performance of frontline professionals. Integrated management models, supported by advanced technology, offer better control and mitigation of negligence, abuse, and corruption. Implementing these models in prison systems promotes transparency, fairness in decision-making, efficient resource management, faster processes, effective mission fulfillment, improved coordination among institutions, and environmental sustainability through reduced paper consumption and waste.
Using an OMS as the core information system of any correctional administration plays a vital role in facilitating the integration of various management models mentioned earlier.
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