How AI Can Help Manage Prisons Amid COVID-19 Pandemic


With inmates huddled together in closely-knitted cells inside prisons, it is little wonder then that these facilities are vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks. Coupled with the apathetic approach towards the health and well-being of those incarcerated, managing a pandemic of this scale has been more challenging, particularly in containment zones.

Some measures that are being considered to stymie the spread of this virus in correctional facilities involve steps to bring down the population behind bars. This may include modification in the norms to shift some prisoners to home confinement, release first-time offenders or those caught for non-violent offences, or even temporarily release those who have served a majority of their sentence already.

Furthermore, many inmates have underlying health conditions, making them more susceptible to severe COVID-19 symptoms. Given this, readily-available access to doctors to treat infected inmates, and other medical care provisions like masks and soaps could also help reduce the extent of the outbreak within prison systems. This could also ease pressure on under-staffed prisons where existing staff are either self-isolating or are on sick leave.

Anticipating that the coronavirus will enter closed spaces like prisons despite precautions, authorities should leverage new technologies to reduce the impact of the virus. Here are some ways in which prisons can integrate AI and other technologies to respond to the pandemic appropriately:

AI-Based Video Surveillance 

Advanced facial-recognition technologies and AI-powered video surveillance can help prison managers conduct crowd analysis and ensure that social distancing protocols are being followed. A startup based out of Gurugram, Staqu Technologies, had introduced an AI-based video analytics platform in several prisons in Uttar Pradesh late last year.

Monikered JARVIS, it uses AI to scan CCTV footage and alert authorities, as well as provide actionable insights. This video analytics engine will enable a quicker response in emergencies like this outbreak. Although this product was launched to keep a check on unlawful practices inside prison cells with the help of ‘intelligent monitoring of objects, crowd and perimeters’, it is equally relevant amid this pandemic, if not more.

Although some prisons may not be well-equipped to handle such high-tech resources to adequately enforce social distancing, measures like these should be made a priority. 

AI-Powered Screening Systems

The same startup also launched a new Thermal Camera under its JARVIS portfolio to supplement screening efforts, especially in prisons. Staqu’s new technology examines heat signatures through the cameras and sends an alert when an inmate with a body temperature of over 37°C is detected up to a range of 100 metres. 

Efficient technological interventions like these should be made mainstream since the health of inmates is often overlooked in prisons. If not appropriately screened to flag inmates who could potentially be carriers of the virus and further infect others, it could be catastrophic. 

Additionally, automated screening should also be complemented with a database carrying relevant information. Since people regularly enter and exit the premises — be it visitors or doctors — critical information around their travel and medical history must be logged and maintained on a regular basis.

Management of COVID-19 will likely result in school and library closures and consideration should be underway concerning the number of people entering jails and prisons and how each step can be re-evaluated and monitored.

ML & RPA To Help Prison Staff

Some hospital chains have been leveraging AI and related technologies to better manage staff and handle other administrative functions to ease pressure on the overall system. With rising responsibilities shared between officers in an already understaffed prison, scheduling has become more complex. 

Some companies can provide AI-powered solutions to accurately plan a rota around existing and available staff members. Based on vacancies, it can align them with appropriate shifts based on their experience and skill sets.

For instance, Norway-based uses deep learning (DL) and machine learning (ML) techniques to match healthcare workers to specific tasks, thereby helping fill available slots. The same technology, albeit some modifications, can potentially be employed in prisons to make the planning of rota more efficient.

Another example is Blue Prism, which has been using robotic process automation (RPA) to tackle COVID-19, including in prisons. The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK has been using its services to automate a central dashboard it maintains to keep track of COVID-19 positive cases in prisons. This, in turn, helps staff manage inmates who are affected by the virus.

Automated Disinfection Systems

Deploying robots to clean and disinfect rooms and corridors in big establishments to promote no-contact measures has been on the rise. A company based out of Denmark UVD Robots have been improving cleaning routines in hospitals by automating the process with the help of its bots.

Currently used in hospitals to protect medical personnel from getting infected, its solution can be applied within prison systems as well. The bots emit ultraviolet light over seemingly unclean surfaces to terminate viruses by breaking down their DNA-structure.

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Anu Thomas
Anu is a writer who stews in existential angst and actively seeks what’s broken. Lover of avant-garde films and BoJack Horseman fan theories, she has previously worked for Economic Times. Contact:

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