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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Where Are The Prisoners?


Every day we get some other Home Office cock-up about where prisoners are, how many of escaped, what they have done etc.

Here's a few thoughts.

There are about 100,000 people in prison in the UK and they are stored in about 135 prisons. I deliberately chose stored as nothing positive in either punishment or retraining is done with many of them, so that they might think about behaving when they are released back into society.

Let's also assume that the average time anyone spends in prison is six months. That may be rather low, but for the purpose of this analysis it is better to err on the low than the high side.

So that means we have 200,000 movements into the prisons every year and 200,000 out. If you add in the fact that each of those prisoners will move once, that gives 600,000 movements or an average of about 4,500 per prison per year.

To get an idea of how big or small this number is, easyJet carried 2.3 million passengers in January 2006. I would suspect that an airline passenger is about as complicated to manage as a prisoner when it comes to a database.

So when governments say they have trouble with databases, they must be talking to the wrong people. When did any reputable airline have troubles with the larger numbers it handles?

So if we go back to our prisoner database, we are talking about 4,500 per prison per year or about 18 on the average working day. In other words even if an individual prison has a lot more movements than 18 per day, the data entry requirements are well within the capabilities of one operator working part time on one PC connected to the Internet. Or an Internet like network. (Government spends fortunes on secure networks, whereas airlines and banks who handle just as sensitive data rely on the Internet with extra security. I suspect they are right.)

So there is no excuse for not creating a central database with details of everyone in UK prisons. I have lots of experience in this area and one that was fit for purpose could be created by two or three experts in a few months. Costs would be a few thousand for the central database computer and perhaps a quarter of a million for creating and loading the system. i.e. It would be peanuts compared to a system designed by one of the Governments preferred suppliers who copper-bottom and gold-plate everything and still get it wrong.

As a better idea, why not get two individual groups to create the system independently? Then choose the best and give that company a bonus of say £100,000 and the contract to run it for some years. No-one ever puts competition into computer contracts, which is one reason why they fail. You also know that the longer it takes the more money you make.

I would create a web based reporting system for the database, which could be examined by anybody who can work a browser, who has access to the system. I've done this in the past and it works spectacularly as senior managers no longer ask their subordinates to do the work they should be doing themselves. Perhaps though it is not a good idea as civil servants are in the job creation, rather than the job reduction business.

But also why not desensitise some of the database and allow the public to access it through the Internet? So therefore if you wanted to know how many were in jail for not paying council tax or murder, it would then be obvious. You would have to make sure that an individual was not identified, but that is a simple matter if a computer system is properly designed.

Will it happen?


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