Moving people securely across the criminal justice system
We designed and delivered a service that allows for the movement of people in custody safely and securely within the criminal justice system through the facilitation of appropriate risk and health information across agencies and suppliers.
Prisoner Escort and Custody Services enables users to request moves from police stations, prisons, custody suites and courts, in order to move people within the criminal justice system between these establishments. Since 1994, the contract has been outsourced – in 2017, the contract undertook over 622,000 moves coming from police custody suites, prisons and courts across the country, covering around 10.5 million miles of distance.
The Ministry of Justice were looking for a partner with experience working in large deployments as well as building user-centred services – bridging the gap between technical complexity and user needs. Talent Consulting were hired to work on the fourth generation of this service in 2019. The revised contracts for the Prisoner Escort and Custody Service (PECS) built on the current arrangements within England and Wales – introducing an updated fleet of escort vehicles with enhanced safety and security features, and an innovative digital platform which provides real-time data on the location of detainees and prisoners who are being moved.
The project presented a complex landscape: our service needed to integrate with different prison databases and authentication systems as well as provide a front-end interface for users, whilst also developing an API so that suppliers could integrate with the product. The goal of this project is to ultimately increase the cost effectiveness for the taxpayer, while ensuring the safety of people being moved, and those that they come into contact with.
Gaining a shared understanding of our users and the process
To understand the existing space, we conducted research with all users across the criminal justice system – including Police, Courts and Prisons – running a mixture of initiatives, including quantitative and qualitative methods, such as journey mapping, focus groups, interviews, usability testing, and surveys. We aligned the needs of users with the wider goals within the contract, alongside meeting the technical complexities we had identified.
Communicating the different parts of a service
We created a service map to visualise the differing parts of the end-to-end service, enabling the team and stakeholders to see how the service worked for everyone. This included sequenced user actions, touchpoints they interact with (on and offline), artefacts they require / create, and the systems behind the scenes. This helped us identify problems and opportunities (particularly upstream) throughout the existing service, and informed the design of the new service.
Problems to be solved
From planning a move to calculating its price after completion, a considerable admin burden is placed upon users due to inefficient ways of working – entailing a mix of tools, manual processes and disjointed channels. This impacts information relevant to moves (for example, risk and health) – often being out of date or missing as users are required to access and maintain separate systems, using inconsistent formats and local ways of working. This leads to delays and errors in transportation, and heightened risk for people being moved and those they come into contact with.
Collaborating to solve challenges
The team collaborated to develop ‘Book a Secure Move’ – ensuring the service was desirable for users, viable for the business and technically feasible. Solutions were prototyped, ready for research with real users in real environments. Research findings were synthesised to identify trends and insights, which were shared and prioritised with the wider team to inform the next iteration. We quickly adapted during the pandemic to minimise disruption, switching to remote working.
Identifying potential service gaps to mitigate risk
Due to the nature of the environment and people involved throughout the service, we developed ‘stress cases’ – in which we considered people who might fall outside of the parameters of common use cases (for example, transgender). This helped us identify gaps within the service that may lead to failure, which we investigated further to identify the root causes so that we could plan for the worst-case scenarios in our solution, helping us mitigate the risk of failure.
Juggling multiple streams of work
One early challenge our team faced came from having multiple streams running at the same time, each trying to deliver functionality, user needs, and benefits on the service. A decision was taken early on in the development lifecycle that meant there needed to be both a frontend application for Ministry Of Justice staff and others to request and manage moves, as well as an API for suppliers to integrate with.
Using analytics to further refine our solutions
Once live, we used analytics to refine solutions. For example, we identified a serious performance problem at the same time every week – further investigation revealed the cause being multiple people downloading reports simultaneously which, combined with database performance issues, was affecting the site. We addressed this by optimising the database queries and changing the design of the page to reduce load time.
Making sure everyone could use the service
We developed ‘Book a Secure Move’ to GDS Service Standards and meet Accessibility and Assisted digital needs, implementing WCAG2.1 guidelines to ensure the service could be used by those with visual, hearing, cognitive or physical impairments.
As of today, the ‘Book a Secure Move’ service is rolled out across every police custody suite, prison, and youth establishment in England and Wales.
The service is used daily by police officers to prison staff, whether to request moves or to update risk assessments on the service, or to manage capacities in prisons and identify if any capacity issues need to be addressed.
Suppliers performing moves can process the move requests for individuals (including risk and health information) and plan moves accordingly. They can also manage moves, and record events against moves which can be seen by receiving establishments. Additionally, Ministry of Justice employees can monitor moves in progress and access the reporting function to identify how the service is performing.
The entire contract was delivered in under 14 months and was awarded ‘Collaboration of the Year’ and ‘Innovation of the Year’ awards by MOJ Project Delivery function in 2021.