The digital prison: Towards an ethics of technology

Bijgewerkt: sep 15

During the 20 years I work in the area of technology for corrections, I have been confronted many times with difficulties, disputes and controversy related to the impact technology has or could have on the field we work in. In the early days – when technology often mainly was limited to transforming paper into digital records – the majority of the issues and risks where related to questions on who gets access to what information and often could be resolved with some strong and transparent access control mechanisms. The real impact of introducing new technologies in prisons or probation services has long been underestimated and often reduced into a black & white, instrumental discussion on how good or bad it is to use a specific tool or system.

Maybe the use of electronic monitoring systems is an exception in this: it’s introduction to the criminal justice system has been much more disruptive in comparison with other technologies, which caused many more discussions and catalysed research, lectures, projects, conferences and a lot of literature containing ethical and moral reflections on how a tool changes the way we control and monitor human beings.

Today, technologies are merging and mingling within all aspects of prisons, probations and even the fundaments of criminal justice systems which makes the assessment on their impact extremely complicated: the move from the physical to the virtual in, the rise of algorithms and robotic tools and the flood of information and data has created new realities for both the responsible governmental bodies as for the offender who grows op in and need to be armed with the skills to return to a digital society.

Dr. Victoria Knight and myself have been given the opportunity to dedicate a chapter on this topic in a new book: Prisons and Community Corrections - Critical Issues and Emerging Controversies – is a collection edited by Prof. Dr. Philip Birch and Dr. Louise Sicard which brings together leading international academics and researchers to provide a comprehensive body of literature that informs the future of prison and wider corrective services training, education, research, policy and practice

In our chapter we offer readers an opportunity to reflect critically on the new frontiers of digitization in relation to prisons. Our collective research and scholarship has led us to reflect poignantly on the impact and consequences of digitization and explore more closely the ethical factors of this evolving landscape. Elsewhere we have made recommendations for meaningful and responsible digital implementation to prisons and consequently we began to explore the ethical dimensions of this practice. In this chapter we outline the key moral drivers in respect to the digital prison. We apply suggested models of digital rehabilitation and disruptive innovations proposed by other scholars and suggest the fundamental ethical principles that would sensitively respond to the prison setting and its people. Our theoretical development has global potential for digital developers, prison practitioners, policy makers as well as prisoners and provides a significant contribution to the evolution of digital criminology and computer ethics.

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