Using Technology to Boost Accessibility in the Criminal Justice Sector

Jessica Kimbell, GovNet
Oct 23, 2023

The continued investment in new technologies being made by the government has been a key topic of discussion across this blog, especially following November’s 'Modernising Criminal Justice' conference. We have written about a number of new innovations that have been implemented across every facet of the criminal justice sector – from those being used by the police, to the courts, and in prisons.

New technology within the criminal justice sector

For instance, we recently blogged about the growth in digital policing, referencing The National Policing Strategy 2020-2030. The post also focused on how Adobe worked with an unnamed police force to pilot a telephone-based statement taking system for volume crime cases – resulting in 1500% ROI and a saving of 25,000 hours of officers’ time per year.

Meanwhile, a post summarising a presentation from Gemma Hewison, Strategy & Change Director for HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), at November’s event, focused on a £1bn reform programme across the court system, the growth in virtual hearings in response to COVID-19, and the progress being made with regards to the Common Platform.

Finally, at the same event, Lucy Frazer QC, Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, highlighted the investment in enhanced gate security and x-ray body scanners at 50 prison sites across the UK.


Using technology to support those with disabilities

It is also encouraging to see how technology is being used to assist and accommodate people with disabilities, from jurors to prisoners.

Matthew Johnson used his lip-reading skills and court stenographers to sit as a profoundly deaf person on a jury – serving on three trials during a two-week period in the summer of 2019. The technology consultant was among the first profoundly deaf people to sit on a jury in England and Wales with the knowledge and support of the court, reported the Guardian.

“After being convinced of Johnston’s ability to serve without hindrance, and discussions with a judge, the officials secured financing for a two-person team of stenographers to transcribe everything spoken in court, which Johnston read on a tablet device from the jury benches.

“He sat on separate trials for sexual assault, violent disorder and actual bodily harm. In two of the three cases, Johnston served as foreman of the jury – a measure that would have encouraged his fellow jurors to speak clearly and direct their words at him during deliberations.”

Following the trials, Matthew said that Blackfriars Crown Court had already contacted him seeking feedback as part of its commitment to improve accessibility. You can read more from Matthew on his experience and other emerging technology on ThoughtWorks’ blog.


Using VR to help prisoners in New Zealand

During her November keynote, Lucy Frazer QC discussed her aspirations to increase in-cell technologies to support education and learning. Therefore, it was fascinating to read a report from the Prisoner Learning Alliance (PLA), focusing on how digital technology is being used in prisons overseas.

For instance, the University of Otago and Methodist Mission Southern introduced virtual reality (VR) to prisons to help prisoners with dyslexia and other learning difficulties improve their basic literacy and numeracy.

“The virtual reality headset ‘transports’ prisoners to a street with a garage, where they must read signs and messages to open doors and ‘move’ through the environment. They then enter a garage and work their way through numeracy and literacy activities. The technology is based on the idea that people with dyslexia and other learning difficulties often learn better through alternatives to traditional ‘pen and paper’ methods. Virtual reality can be used to create a more interesting and relevant environment and remove some of the negative associations some students may have with classrooms,” said the report.


We will be using our own sophisticated technology to bring you the latest developments from across the sector when Modernising Criminal Justice 2021 returns virtually on 23rd June. You’ll be able to access our innovative portal to hear more from leading industry figures and learn about the latest developments across the police force, courts, prison and probation. Here is the full agenda.