Serco launches ‘Vulnerability Prediction Tool’ to reduce risk of prisoner self-harm and suicide

Published: 1 Nov 2019

Serco, the international services company and a leading provider of prison services, has developed and successfully deployed a unique and innovative ‘Vulnerability Prediction Tool’ (VPT) across six UK prisons.

The new tool predicts prisoners’ vulnerability by recognising departures from normal patterns of behaviour.  This change in behavior and vulnerability is then highlighted to Prison Officers, allowing them to intervene and support a prisoner before he self-harms or attempts suicide.

The VPT works by tracking prisoners’ daily activities that they undertake as part of the regime in the prison, such as mealtimes, family and legal visits, attending work, education etc. All these activities are routinely booked and stored in Serco’s Custodial Management System (CMS). The VPT makes this information visible by establishing ‘normal’ patterns of behaviour and then constantly analysing the activities for changes to these patterns of each and every prisoner.  It searches for prisoners who withdraw from normal behaviour in these activities and presents information about them to Serco Prison Officers in risk priority order.

Under new Ministry of Justice Offender Management guidance, each prisoner is allocated and has regular engagement with a prison keyworker.  Using the information from the VPT, these Officers can explore and understand a prisoner’s risk profile, enabling early interventions before the prisoner becomes a risk to themselves. As soon as the vulnerability is confirmed, the normal support mechanisms are mobilised to address the concerns. Once a prisoner features on the list, they remain there until their behaviour returns to normal.

Wyn Jones, Serco Custodial Operations Director, said: “The Vulnerability Prediction Tool is a simple but effective way of providing early warning that allows Officers to intervene and improves the chances of preventing a tragedy.

”It is very easy for a vulnerable prisoner to let their behaviour spiral out of control and it is impossible for prison officers to know each individual prisoner well enough to recognise when one of them withdraws from the regime.  As a result, traditionally prisoners are only recognised as being at risk and supported once they have threatened or attempted to commit suicide or self-harm.  We think this new tool can make a real difference for prisoners.”    

The VPT also works well with the ‘anniversaries trigger tool’ that Serco has also developed, in which significant dates in a prisoner’s life are recorded, such as a death of a relative, failure of a relationship or important sentence dates.  These are highlighted to staff on their anniversary, which can weigh heavily on a prisoner’s mind and can often explain the reason for a change in behaviour or mood. Making relevant staff aware enables them to keep a watchful eye or offer additional support in these times of difficulty.

Whilst primarily targeted at those prisoners who are deliberately self-isolating the tool can also help to identify those who have difficulty engaging with the regime through no fault of their own.