Belfast-designed bio-metric technology is changing the way prisons operate around the world
Published 16/12/2013 | 11:00
A Northern Ireland woman is changing the way prisons operate around the world with technology designed in Belfast.
Patricia O'Hagan heads up Core Systems which is behind the software which drives security systems in a growing number of jails in the UK and US, and other corners of the world.
From its Crumlin Road base it develops security and bio-metric software which can identify people from their personal characteristics, like fingerprints or iris recognition.
That lends itself to the the custody sector, including prisons, police stations and immigration centres, and it has found an eager market for its high-tech products.
"We specialise in the kind of software that controls movement and access to information," she said.
"We have a good mix of technology and industry knowledge and our products are well used in US and UK facilities, and we are also looking to expand into more facilities in northern Europe."
Ms O'Hagan, who describes herself as a 'corrections technologist', said the company is now aiming at scaling up the production and use of a number of novel 'in-cell' products.
Far from the image of queuing for the use of a solitary coinbox or waiting in a visiting room to communicate with a loved one, one of Core Systems' new devices enables prisoners to contact friends and family and access personal information.
However, it is done under strictly controlled circumstances, via a communal kiosk or even from their own cell.
"In the UK our products for prisoners are connecting them to learning and educational programmes and linking them to mentors who might be helping them to access accommodation or jobs upon their release," Ms O'Hagan said.
"The devices can also be used as a reward system so that they can access entertainment or music to listen to in their cell."
They can also access their personal information to find out how much funds they hold (most prisons don't allow cash, but they can earn rewards and they can be sent money by families).
The device can be used to help buy things from the prison shop and can also display diet information.
"These are all things that they would normally have to ask a prison officer to go and look up for them, which takes time and can impede the work of the prison officer, who has to go off and access a system and find it all out and relay it to the prisoner – now it can be a self-service process."
"Research has shown that prisoners who are allowed to use communication, who can support relationships with those on the outside, are less likely to re-offend."
This approach to running a prison is significantly different to that in the UK, according to Ms O'Hagan.
"In America the focus is punishment and correction. In the UK prison is seen more as a rehabilitation process."
Patricia O'Hagan was appointed managing director of Core Systems in 2005 and oversaw growth of 30% in her first two years in the post.
With two decades of experience in the IT industry and a raft of awards for business and entrepreneurship under her belt, she has helped the company become recognised internationally as a leader in the application of biometric technology and prisoner self-service in high security environments.
Ms O'Hagan is an international speaker on 'corrections technology' and is regularly consulted by the American Corrections Association and the UK Home Office as well as Northern Ireland's Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.
Previously she has worked for organisations such as Harland & Wolff, CEM and Gardner Merchant.
She also held the post of IT manager at Stockport College, one of the largest colleges of higher and further education in the UK, where she successfully implemented an ambitious project to provide a leading edge IT service to 1,000 staff and 15,000 students.
Security software firm finds a captive market in US prisons thanks to £700k investment
Core Systems is investing £700,000 in an expansion and research and development project to secure new opportunities in the US market.
Based on the Crumlin Road, the security software firm was established in 1994 and specialises in identity management for high security facilities including police stations and prisons.
The development will mean the creation of eight high quality software development jobs on top of 32 already employed, and has been given £167,000 of support from Invest Northern Ireland.
The company intents to develop Direct2inmate, an interactive communication and services product for use in prisons, youth detention centres and immigration centres. The system provides a secure way for inmates to directly access information and make service requests and can allow the prisoner to order items from the in-house shop, communicate with family and friends in a secure and controlled way, make requests and report grievances using electronic forms, access learning programmes and select meals.
Core Systems has recently established a business relationship with a leading provider of inmate services to correctional facilities in the US giving the company a direct route to over 50% of the US corrections market.
Jeremy Fitch, executive director of business and sector development with Invest NI, said that the company has a reputation for innovative, original products.
"Its success in the highly competitive US market is testament to this small company's continued investment in research and development and in its people.
"The new jobs will generate over £240,000 annually in salaries, a welcome boost to the economy and a significant expansion for one of our most established local IT companies."
Other products from the firm include Cell Point, a kiosk which enables custody officers to record actions in real-time and Message2you, a secure electronic messaging solution for prison facilities which enables family and friends of inmates to send electronic messages in a way that can be easily monitored by the prison.
Last month Core Systems made it into the top 50 fastest-growing technology companies in Ireland.
Core Systems have been among the top 15 Northern Ireland winners five times in the past number of years in the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 Awards.