The effect of digital technology on prisoner behavior and reoffending: a natural stepped wedge design

Cynthia McDougall, Dominic Pearson, David Torgerson, Maria Garcia-Reyes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1491 Downloads (Pure)


Objectives - Although prisons aspire to rehabilitate offenders, they fail to prepare prisoners for release into our modern digitally sophisticated society. The objectives of the current study were to assess the impact of digital technology on the culture of prisons, and on prisoners’ ability to self-manage their behavior and reoffending.

Method - Using a natural stepped-wedge design, 13 prisons in the UK were examined that had installed self-service technology over a period of 7 years. A longitudinal multi-level model was used to analyze frequencies of disciplinary proceedings within and between the prisons before and after installation. Reoffending was examined in comparison with a control sample. Quantitative results were supported by a prisoner survey and usage data.

Results - Prison disciplinary offenses were significantly reduced over a two-year period, and reoffending in the first year after release was reduced by 5.36% compared to a 0.78% reduction in comparison prisons. The prisoner survey and usage data suggested that prisoners felt much more in control of their lives in prison and much more confident in coping with technology in the outside world.

Conclusions - The changes created by the introduction of digital technology offer the opportunity to make prisons more efficient for staff, and places of improved learning and rehabilitation for prisoners, contributing to a safer society. This study offers an important contribution to the field of corrections, providing the first quantitative assessment of the effect of prisoner self-service technology on prisoner behavior and reoffending.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)455-482
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Experimental Criminology
Issue number4
Early online date12 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


Dive into the research topics of 'The effect of digital technology on prisoner behavior and reoffending: a natural stepped wedge design'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this