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How technology could put a stop to the increase in prison suicides



A report published this year, reveals a staggering and worrying seven-year high of suicides in prisons. A total of 82 prisoners killed themselves in 2014, according to statistics compiled by the Howard League for Penal Reform. Tragically, this figure included 14 young adults, aged between 18 and 24.


One of the biggest contributing factors to this is staff shortages; over-worked prison employees are unable to provide adequate care and monitoring of those most at risk or secure room detainees. As outlined in Inside Times, since 2010, the number of prison officers, governors and support staff in public sector jails has fallen by a massive 10,000. Exacerbating this issue further is the huge increase in the number of adult male offenders, up almost 5,000 since 2010.


 

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, commented: "No one should be so desperate whilst they are in the care of the state that they take their own life."


She continued, "Hard-pressed prison staff have to save lives... The government has chosen to allow the prison population to increase whilst it cuts staff, and that has led to an increase in people dying by suicide."


These troubling statistics bring to the forefront the current issues with the monitoring of health in secure room facilities. Currently, staff monitor health through periodic physical checks, with those assessed as being at high risk of serious self-harm or suicide put on 24 hour observation. This is an expensive and time intensive activity for staff in these facilities, where there simply isn't the resource for this level of intensive care.


The method also has its inaccuracies, as it can be difficult to determine an individual's health by sight alone. For instance determining a critical subject from one who is simply asleep requires further inspection and as such more resource. Also, the patients can be easily disturbed, by lights being switched on, for example, which is counterintuitive to rehabilitation. Critically, these periodic checks do not allow for staff to detect sudden changes in health in-between monitoring, meaning incidents of self-harm, and attempted suicide may go missed, only reaching an individual when it is too late. The cost of an individual death is significant, with inquests and investigations, staff resources and duty of care to the deceased costing upward of £1.2million, as well as the emotional cost of a lost loved one to family members.


To address these increasingly critical issues we've been working with Broadmoor Hospital to trial the use of Oxecam technology in supporting staff with the health monitoring of patients in secure rooms; ensuring the safety of those at the highest risk. As part of this Smart Proof of Concept project, supported by Innovate UK, we've conducted a study involving staff volunteers being monitored in a disused Broadmoor ward. Our technology monitored their heart rate and breathing rate, using wall-mounted cameras.


The technology has the ability to support staff in a number of ways, including:



  • Continuous 24-hour monitoring, which detects life-threatening changes in health, that may be missed by periodic visual checks



  • Alerts notify staff to critical health signs, allowing them to react more quickly



  • Machine learning algorithms track long-term trends in physical and potentially mental health



  • Maintains privacy and dignity through automated monitoring. Staff can track patient health without the need to constantly monitor a video feed


The Oxecam technology detects a face within a video image and is able to identify parts of the face where strong signals are present as a result of heartbeat and breathing to monitor an individual's health. This technology is non invasive as it does not require any technology to be physically connected to the individual being monitored. As monitoring is continuous, even through sleep, a more reliable reading on a patient's health is recorded without staff having to intervene and take manual physical readings. This way a staff could reliably check the health of a patient within a secure room without even needing to enter, increasing safety and decreasing the resource needed to do checks. The Oxecam's intelligent algorithms can also monitor and alert to sudden changes in health, which could indicate the need for a physical check. For patients requiring intensive care this feature can alert hospital staff to an issue, before they would run a routine check, by which time it may be too late to intervene.


The trial at Broadmoor Hospital has now reached completion, if you would like to be one of the first to see the results sign up for our email alerts.