This project focused on prisons, and the experiences of inmates, officers, and citizens returning to society. It was requested by Japanese tech company Fujitsu in collaboration with The Glasgow School of Art's Design Innovation department.

The aim was to consider how Information and Communication Technology might contribute to revitalisation of the prison community in 2020. We sought to achieve this by understanding how isolation from society and separation from family and friends impact the individual and group experience of prison inmates. We looked at how the application of ICT might improve their life by facilitation better interactions and experiences, inside and outside of prison. The design outcome focuses on the projected scenario for 2020, based on our understanding of the current penal system and the potential trajectory of change.

The project sits in a wider programme of transformation and innovation that Fujitsu is undertaking by integrating user-led/participatory design approaches in the design of their products and services, with the ultimate aim of addressing highly complex challenges, such as the prison rehabilitation system.

The outcomes were delivered to Fujitsu Design Department in their Tokyo Headquarters in December 2013.

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We run a series of focus groups and semi structured interviews, which involved a wide range of stakeholders and subject experts including politicians, representative of the legal advisory system, academics, charity organisations, prison officers, and current inmates serving time.

Utilising strong local networks enabled us to gain access to a local prison, HMP Barlinnie - Scotland's largest penal establishment -  to run a design research workshop with the inmates. In the lead up to this we designed a set of engagement tools to allow rich qualitative data to be gathered quickly and visually - taking into account varying levels of literacy and abilities. 

The tools were all based on simple visual metaphors, designed to build dialogue around their physical and emotional needs, their personal lives, relationship, aspirations and frustrations, and stigma they experience.

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Our framework for analysis utilised a variety of forms of reasoning - inductive, deductive and abductive. 

Six themes emerged at first: 

  • Crime and Punishment, 
  • Space and Amenities, 
  • People and Interactions, 
  • Health and Wellbeing, 
  • Support and Service, 
  • Reintegration after Release. 

To develop a range of concepts we took the themes and opportunities outlined in our analysis and used them as headings for ideation. From the principle that there are no bad ideas, this phase allowed us to explore radically different ideas from the sublime to the ridiculous. We generated over 100 initial concepts, before a critical review, and sifting process that resulted in four strong concepts to start prototyping and developing.

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The four concepts that made it to the design development stage were eventually blended into one multifaceted rehabilitation systems concept. They combined aspects of RFID tracking, virtual prison zones, returning citizen support structures, and reward systems. This was an innovative vision of a future prison as a school for reform, a clinic for rehabilitation and a network for reintegration. 

What if we could create something that is neither prison, nor freedom, but something in between? 

This will be a time when an offender will be helped to become a free citizen, and a productive member of society. We called this the Free Zone: a government funded rehabilitation scheme. 

In Free Zone a prisoner will spend less time in prison: part of their sentence will be served outside, within a program of rehabilitation supported by a mentor with their behaviour monitored, and rewarded for positive actions. 

The free zone will reduce the amount of time inmates spend in prison. This is based on several basic factors: 

1) The prisons are currently overpopulated and this is growing. Reducing the time an individual spends in prison will reduce the prison population. 

2) It is very expensive to incarcerate people. The scheme will reduce costs by decreasing the time inmates spend in prisons.

3) Reducing the time people spend in prison will also reduce isolation from society and the likelihood of family breakups, and a decline in mental health.  

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This article provides an overview of the research end of the project. If you are interested in reading more about this project, and its design outcomes, you can read the full report on ISSUU by clicking this link.