It might seem strange to think of prisoners as customers, but if you consider that taxpayers pay for prisons, that makes us and prisoners recipients of a service we all pay for to varying extents. The difference between incarcerated and free citizens is that those in prison use different parts of the corrections services for a period of their lives.
Whether this makes sense and you want to call prisoners customers or not, I think that approaching the improvement of their experiences through the customer experience lens would be a worthwhile exercise. Everyone benefits if offenders come out as better citizens than they were when they went in.
People often seem to think that prison should be a place of suffering, but this implicitly gives correctional services permission to provide low-quality services, and that ignores a central part of the service we pay for. As the name implies, an important part of their remit is to design and manage their programmes and facilities in a way that looks after people, including acknowledging the potential of prisoners to change by providing services that promote rehabilitation and reintegration.
These community correctional policies, programmes and services are supposed to be informed by research and reflect sound evidence-based practice, but the wheels of change move torturously slowly. The fact that correctional practices vary massively across different countries, where some have terrible rates of incarceration and recidivism and some astonishingly positive, is a testament to this.
We could be using the same kind of humanistic service design research and improvement we use for regular customers in commercial organisations to improve our approach to prisoner management and thereby improve the value of the service to society. Approaching things in the way business does could fast track research and improvements that might normally take years.
Prison is punishment, so we’re not talking about providing a pillow menu and continental breakfasts, but if a fresh perspective could make positive changes happen faster so people come out less likely to reoffend, is it worth exploring?