Prison Kiosk

Self-service has now infiltrated nearly every facet of society, even finding its way behind the locked doors of Her Majesty’s Prisons.

It is now not uncommon to see self-service kiosks installed in prisons. Prisoners can use the kiosks to help them carry out everyday tasks, such as ordering food from a pre-set menu, arranging social and legal visits, viewing notices, scheduling timetables, shopping for essential items such as toiletries, stamps and phone credit and managing finances.

One of the companies which offers a self-service solution for prisons is Unilink, a software company which specialises in innovative technology, including biometrics, for the Criminal Justice Sector. It has developed software solutions for the UK Prison Service, Police, Immigration Detention Centres and high security hospitals. The company’s largest growth area has been in supplying prisons with biometric Offender Kiosks. These automate time-consuming and costly administration functions previously completed with pen and paper.

The company’s NForce criminal justice kiosks were first introduced in privately run prisons, as an alternative to traditional pen-and-paper systems. They are now increasingly being installed in public prisons as well. The National Offender Management Service, an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice, in charge of delivering services to UK prisons, is trying out the benefits of self -service to help inmates manage their lives while they serve their sentence.

Over 500 kiosks are currently in use and in the UK alone 10,000 prisoners log on to the kiosks every day. The solution consists of a robust self-service kiosk, combined with application software, which can be used on prison wings. Inmates biometrically identify themselves on the kiosk using two-factor identification: a fingerprint and a pin code. A series of easy-to-use options is then presented, ranging from menu ordering, shopping, finance, and general applications.


Unilink partnered with UK-based manufacturer, Acante, to create a design that was suitable for this application, with its very specific demands. Prisons are unique environments and it is essential that the kiosks are designed to be very robust, in order to safeguard against misuse, deliberate vandalism and bullying.

Already widely used in the UK, in a variety of different types of prison – high security, male, female and young offenders institutions – the kiosks are now beginning to be introduced in New Zealand and Australia. Prisoners report that they prefer them as they mean that they are more in control of their lives. They increase a sense of self-sufficiency and empowerment. Prisoners now see the kiosks as an integral part of prison life and an essential tool to self-manage their time.

The kiosks offer a number of benefits. They help prisons save money by freeing up officers’ time, so that they can focus on doing rehabilitative work. There are also clear financial benefits of making systems more efficient and less labour intensive. They result in less administration and duplication of work. They give prisoners greater self-sufficiency and independence. They reduce food wastage, by ensuring that prisoners are only given what they ask for. They also help the environment, as they reduce the paper mountain created by administration.

The kiosks have received positive feedback from both prison staff and the prisoners themselves. A prisoner at Acacia Prison said, “I for one believe that the kiosks have also had a beneficial aspect that is sometimes a little lost; that of giving a prisoner control and responsibility over his own time and personal administration.” John Biggin, Governor, HMP Doncaster, said, “This is probably the most significant technological innovation in prison management that I have ever seen.”

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