Using AI to Combat Contraband in Prison

Intelligent surveillance monitors suspicious activity on security cameras

Technology is most successful when it impacts society in a positive way, and whilst Artificial Intelligence is still a sensitive subject for some, another benevolent application for AI has been found in fighting crime. AI powered platforms are brilliant at recognising patterns, which also means that they can pick out anomalies. That’s why AI is such a valuable tool for detecting fraud, for instance. It can flag up suspicious behaviours amongst datasets that are so huge, human administrators wouldn’t know where to start. The latest use of the technology to combat crime isn’t on the streets, or even in the courts – it’s a prison that is pioneering this new high-tech approach to security.

AI vs. crime
As of this month, Altcourse Prison in the UK city of Liverpool is using security cameras monitored by AI to stop contraband from getting into the prison. Altcourse has experienced problems with contraband in the past, including drugs, alcohol and weaponry. It’s not difficult to see why lapses in security can create some serious issues for guards and even for the prisoners themselves. The system now in place uses video analytics software and was created by Avigilon, a Canadian video surveillance company. Following a particularly serious security breach in the summer involving two lock knives, the central Liverpool prison will trial Avigilon’s software for a period of two months.

HMP Altcourse is just one facility that has recognised the usefulness of AI in fighting crime. Governments are also starting to use AI to spot suspicious anomalies. The FBI has created a huge database of American faces which can be used for AI-powered facial recognition, and has also used machine learning software to recognise tattoos that are associated with gangs. Unsurprisingly, the FBI has faced controversy over its use of the technology – how can you be sure that someone is a criminal just because they have certain tattoos? It might seem like the system in Altcourse Prison avoids these kinds of issues, as the people they monitor have already been convicted, but in fact, the cameras are equally as focused on identifying proliferators of contraband on the outside. By taking a connected, intelligent approach to security, prison staff and police officers are working together to apprehend criminals, convicted or otherwise.

How will AI disrupt criminal security?
AI is just one branch of innovative tech that will change the way that society detects and deals with criminal activity. It has provided a real tool in the struggle against cybercrime, analysing data and identifying anomalies, as well as finding real world applications like that at HMP Altcourse . Quicker and more accurate detection of crime will lead to a faster response from police units, which will in turn lead to more convictions and perhaps a safer society. Within prisons and police stations, security guards will be able to keep a close eye on their occupants and nip any suspicious behaviour in the bud. This, in theory, should create a more efficient, effective police force, as well as offering reliable, quality video footage for use in court. AI won’t just change how criminals are monitored, though – it will affect the criminals themselves. In an ideal world, highly intelligent security systems would discourage criminals from taking part in the provision, reception and use of contraband. However, by technologizing security, a new type of criminal will be created – one which knows full well that technology is monitoring them. The criminals of tomorrow will be (if they aren’t already), tech-savvy, and this in turn is challenging crime prevention agencies and correctional facilities to increase innovation. The prime example is cybercrime – criminals have worked out how to hack into valuable yet vulnerable digital spaces, meaning that advances in cybersecurity should be right at the top of everyone’s agendas. The application of technology isn’t going to solve crime, rather it will change the nature of the exchange between crime and crime prevention. . . and this is where companies like Avigilon can take full advantage.

Whilst Altcourse Prison may have found a potential solution to its contraband conundrum, the application of tech within crime prevention stretches far beyond disrupting contraband in correctional facilities. Adopting technological security solutions will create an on-going cat-and-mouse situation between innovative crime prevention and reactive criminals. Scepticism aside, HMP Altcourse has taken a pioneering step which could inspire other prisons to do the same. At the moment, the Liverpool prison is acting as a Guinea pig for Avigilon’s software, so it’s uncertain how effective it will really be. If the detection of fraud by AI platforms is anything to go by, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to hope for success. There is something we can be sure of, however – this isn’t the first time that Artificial Intelligence has been used to combat crime, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Will other prisons and correctional facilities begin to use AI to improve their security? Which other technologies could be used to prevent crime? What are the ethical concerns surrounding 24/7 surveillance? Share your thoughts and opinions.

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