TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan's first "smart prison" was recently launched in Chiayi, with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities set into various devices that will deliver significant benefits to officers and inmates alike, according to an official close to the matter.
Aimed at streamlining workloads in the face of officer shortages and creating a more humane prison system, Taiwan's Agency of Corrections—the Ministry of Justice (MJAC)—has planned an AI-powered smart technology upgrade for five years. The project is in collaboration with Taiwan telecommunication service provider Chunghwa Telecom (中華電信), world-leading ICT solutions provider NEC Taiwan, the Syscom Group, and other tech companies.
There are 51 correctional facilities across the country, including jails, detention centers, juvenile correctional institutions, and rehabs. The largest correctional facility is located in Taichung, accommodating over 5,000 prisoners. The detention center in Chiayi has approximately 700 inmates and is considered an ideal place to first implement the project due to its size.
MJAC chief Huang Chun-tang (黃俊棠) said the global trend in corrections is to help prepare prisoners for a smoother transition back into society and to become accustomed to a more humane environment and management style.
Huang added that Taiwan's correctional officers are working under pressure given staffing shortages, but a smart technology-enabled facility can improve the situation. "In Taiwan, each officer has to supervise 10 inmates, around twice that of their counterparts outside the country," he said.
The agency believes the increased use of smart technologies can trigger dramatic shifts in how officers work and deliver benefits to the organization, including higher employee satisfaction. Thus, a smart surveillance system was rolled out on a small scale at several facilities in 2015.
"In the beginning, we introduced a digital surveillance system to identify inappropriate behavior on the part of inmates at some correctional facilities, and it worked pretty well. It was also deployed at Chiayi's detention center," the MJAC director said.
A smart kiosk. (MJAC photo)
In addition to the smart surveillance system, smart technology will provide conveniences to inmates, including smart kiosks, which are widely available at Chiayi's facility. With the kiosks, inmates can make purchases online through facial recognition and get their orders the next day, rather than going through a week-long and tedious application for purchases.
The system also enables officers to better manage cigarette quotas. Inmates can even make medical appointments through the kiosks.
The NEC-developed facial recognition equipment has also been introduced into access control at the facility, helping to improve physical security. The system utilizes Chunghwa Telecom's big data processing techniques to streamline analytics into a smart surveillance system that can identify inappropriate behavior and notify nearby correction officers immediately.
Huang is hoping the smart system can be quickly expanded to other correctional facilities countrywide to greatly benefit officers and inmates.