On 24 May 2023, the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) organized a groundbreaking side event during the 32nd session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ). The event, titled "Enhancing Rehabilitation Outcomes for Prisoners through Adoption of Innovative Technologies," was co-organised in collaboration with the Government of Japan, Penal Reform International (PRI), and the Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFEI).
The session attracted a diverse audience, with approximately 40 individuals attending in person and another 40 joining virtually, demonstrating the significant global interest in the intersection of technology and criminal justice. The event commenced with the opening remarks from UNICRI Director Ms. Antonia Marie de Meo and H.E Ambassador Hikihara Takeshi, while Leif Villadsen, Deputy Director of UNICRI, moderated the discussions. Olivia Rope, Executive Director of Penal Reform International, delivered insightful closing remarks, marking the conclusion of the event.
The side event underscored promising technological advancements in prisoner rehabilitation, prompting discussions on how to effectively integrate these innovations with the essential face-to-face interactions between prisoners and staff. Importantly, it also initiated a dialogue on the potential human rights and ethical issues surrounding the implementation of these technologies within the prison system.
Key speakers at the event were prominent experts in the field of prisoner rehabilitation and technology who shared their unique insights and experiences.
Ms. Pia Puolakka, from the Finnish Criminal Sanctions Agency, emphasized the transformative role of Virtual Reality (VR) as a pivotal tool in creating immersive and impactful learning environments for prisoner rehabilitation. Mr. Loh Eng Hao of the Singapore Prison Service further emphasized the importance of comprehending the practical applications and effectiveness of VR in real-life prisoner rehabilitation scenarios.
Mr. Richard Booth of the Shrewsbury Colleges Group then discussed the development and potential of Augmented Reality (AR) in enhancing offender learning experiences and its potential impact on reducing reoffending rates. Following him, Dr. Victoria Knight, Associate Professor of Research at De Montfort University, stressed the significance of establishing ethical guidelines for the implementation of digital technology in prisons. She highlighted how these principles can guide the responsible use of such tools in rehabilitation programs.
In April of this year, UNICRI took a significant step forward by launching a research project to explore the potential benefits of new technologies for prisoner rehabilitation. This initiative aligns with UNICRI's strategic priorities, which include promoting the rule of law, ensuring access to justice, and leveraging new and emerging technologies to address crime and exploitation. UNICRI expresses its gratitude to the Government of Japan for the invaluable contribution it made to this project.
UNICRI's planned activities in 2023 will focus on researching existing initiatives that leverage technology to support rehabilitation and reduce reoffending. UNICRI aims to identify and establish ethical and human rights principles to guide digital rehabilitation in prisons and develop a comprehensive report assessing the risks, benefits, and challenges of introducing new prison technologies. A stakeholder workshop is also planned to share the findings, best practices, and recommendations for successfully implementing new technologies in prisons.
This research will lay the foundation for the next phase of the project, during which UNICRI will identify beneficiary countries and design tailored rehabilitation roadmaps. Through action-oriented research and capacity-building efforts, our goal is to facilitate a smooth transition from prison to society and create a safer world, free from violence and crime.
Stay tuned for further updates on our upcoming events and the findings from our ongoing research in this crucial area.