BC’s provincial government has announced a new technology pilot project that will give BC Corrections‘ inmates and community corrections clients direct, secure and easy access to legal documents, client histories, discharge dates and medical appointments – all at the touch of a fingerprint. The innovative project, called the Integrated Corrections Operations Network (ICON II), is the first of its kind in Canada and is being tested by a select group of inmates and clients in two correctional centres and five community corrections offices throughout B.C.
ICON II supports the Province’s Justice Reform Initiative as the integration of the new system with existing ones will increase case management efficiency and effectiveness. Secure touchscreen monitors have been installed in correctional centre living units and community corrections waiting rooms. These “eDevices” allow inmates to use their fingerprints to authenticate their identity and gain controlled access to a restricted network of electronic services.
In speaking about ICON II, Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton stated that “the state-of-the-art technology we’re putting in place will improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the justice system, which depends to a great extent upon timely, appropriate sharing of information. It is an innovative and creative approach that gives inmates direct access to their own info – an approach which is being watched around the country.”
The new system will not only provide an additional way to verify inmates’ identities upon admission and before release, it will improve inmates’ access to their own personal information, which in turn will reduce workload pressures for staff who currently process requests such as looking up court information or booking medical appointments. Community corrections clients can access their court dates, court orders, active conditions they must follow and messages from their probation officer. For suitable clients, an electronic self-reporting service, in addition to regularly scheduled appointments with their probation officers, will further their accountability.
“ICON II is the first project of its kind in Canada and is another example of how BC Corrections is leading the country in finding new and innovative ways to manage offenders and improve public safety,” said Parliamentary Secretary for Corrections Laurie Throness. “This new technology will increase case management efficiency, improve inmate access to personal information and reduce workload for staff – all crucial components of an efficient correctional system.”
The pilots are taking place at Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre and North Fraser Pretrial Centre, as well as five community corrections offices in Castlegar, Fort St. John, New Westminster, Richmond and Saanich.
BC Corrections consulted the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) on the objectives, operations and security of the new system and the privacy provisions in place. Notably, BC Corrections will safeguard in a high-security environment all “biometric data”, based on inmates’ fingerprints, which the scanners will use to verify their identities. Scanners will collect biometric fingerprints that are then converted into an encrypted electronic template, storing the fingerprint as an encrypted digital string of characters created by a complex algorithm; the image of the fingerprint is not recorded or stored.
Starting in September, the pilot will expand to five Crown counsel offices, giving the accused in custody full, secure and timely access to electronic disclosure evidence including video and audio surveillance. This will work towards protecting the integrity of complex criminal trials – the outcomes of which are heavily reliant on the rights of accused to access confidential legal material in a timely manner. It is expected that ICON II will expand to include all nine correctional centres and all 55 community corrections offices throughout the province, starting before the end of 2013. As well, its use by all 40 Crown counsel offices is planned by mid-2014.
“The Canadian Bar Association, BC Branch (CBABC) is pleased to see the Ministry of Justice exploring ways to use technology to decrease costs so that other components of the justice system can benefit,” added Canadian Bar Association, British Columbia Branch president Kerry L. Simmons. “CBABC will be monitoring the pilot project carefully, and we look forward to receiving feedback from our members who will be participating in the eDisclosure portion of the pilot.”