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  • Writer's pictureKaigan

Inside Finland's first smart prison

I spoke with Anni, who at the time was the prison governor (known there as head of unit) at Hämeenlinna prison, the first smart prison in Finland. The prison build was completed towards the end of 2020 and the concept is that the prison is a learning environment for a crime-free life. As a smart prison, each of the 100 single cells in Hämeenlinna women’s prison has a laptop installed allowing things to be done in a more digitised way. For example, the incarcerated women can use the laptop to do their canteen order, listen to audiobooks and conduct videocalls with friends and family. To ensure safety and security these videocalls are monitored and only specific prisoners are allowed access to the internet. Those who can access the internet can only access ‘whitelist’ websites such as the news and official authority websites, such as prison healthcare and social support. The women can also study online. They can reach any of the staff from their laptop and the staff can write back to them directly. I was concerned that this might result in prisoners being confined to their cells for longer, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. Prisoners are still taking part in activities outside of their cell in line with the principle of normality, a concept where prisons in Finland must replicate the outside world as much as possible. Anni said she is very proud of these types of criminal policies that Finland follows. The in-cell laptops merely mean that when the women are inside their cells, they can engage in purposeful activity and still govern their own lives to an extent, hopefully aiding a smoother transition back into society upon release. Hämeenlinna is a very modern prison and is a new concept in Finland. When asked how working in a modern prison with lots of natural light impacts her wellbeing, Anni says it has a positive impact. She shares that the environment itself positively impacts her wellbeing but that her wellbeing, and that of her colleagues, is improved because the environment is positively impacting the prisoners’ wellbeing, which ripples out and impacts staff wellbeing too.

One issue in Finland is that the main group of prisoners are serving sentences under three months so it doesn’t give staff time to do meaningful work with them. At Hämeenlinna prison many of the women are coming back and forth into the prison serving short sentences. Despite this, there are a number of jobs that the women can do, like gardening for example. However, Anni acknowledges that perhaps some of them might not want to be a gardener, so she’d love to see the women being asked what skills they have and what it is they want to do with their life. She would like to be able to implement training so the prisoner can strengthen their skills in that particular area. Anni has always been very proud to be a prison officer and feels it is an honour. Upon being asked what are important traits for a prison officer she said,

"Communication skills are so important in this profession. It’s really important not to increase prisoner stress in prison, as they already have a lot of stress by losing their freedom."

In terms of how much prison officers interact with the prisoners, Anni states that it depends on the individual officer. She personally likes to eat with the women and have coffee with them, but some officers aren’t so comfortable doing this. From a management point of view, Anni explains that she doesn’t want to force her staff to do this but that she encourages it. She also encourages new staff to work like this in the hope that over time this will become the norm. Anni shares that her employer has given her a lot of opportunities throughout her career. After completing her training as a prison officer she studied for a Master of Law and became a supervisor lawyer, responsible for ensuring that the practices in the prisons were lawful. She then worked for the Ministry of Justice where she was responsible for drafting legislative changes, after which she decided to return to the field and became a prison governor. Having had such a wide array of experiences in the prison space, there is no doubt Anni must have been a very knowledgeable and invaluable prison leader. And what better prison to be governing, than one that appears to be leading the way in enabling prisoners to govern their own lives through the use of in-cell technology.

You can listen to my full conversation with Anni here.


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