Aussie prisoners escape lock-in with Ubuntu PCs

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Aussie prisoners escape lock-in with Ubuntu PCs

The Alexander Maconochie jail in Canberra will this week deploy 30 more Ubuntu Linux-based computers for prisoner use after a successful first phase.

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The Prison PC computers created by  Melbourne consultancy, Cybersource, were deployed in prisoner group areas such as the education centre and the library.

A computer will be assigned to each cell block wing for use by prisoners.

They will provide limited email and internet access to prisoners filtered using a centrally maintained white and blacklist, an Australian first, Cybersource said.

Prisoners may send emails to approved contacts only. Attempts to contact anyone not on the whitelist results in the message being quarantined for inspection by an administrator, Cybersource said.

Andreas Wullen, business and security systems manager for ACT Corrective Services, told iTnews the centre - from each building down to individual cells - had the infrastructure to run the Linux PCs.

But there are no plans to allow prisoners to have PCs in their cells yet.

"The issue of privilege is quite complex," Wullen said.

"You would have to be granted the highest of privilege to have a computer in your cell.

"What we will have is PCs in each wing for common use where prisoners can access controlled email or look at websites that have been approved for viewing."

The jail has an educational centre with training rooms for classes of 10 to 12 prisoners.

They have Prison PC desktops running images of about 120 KDE or GNOME applications. They are  Open Office, Firefox and some specialist but free education software.

"It runs on Ubuntu so we don't have to deal with operating system and software licenses. The software side of the system is completely free for us," Wullen said.

But look-and-feel of the user interface was still an important consideration, particularly because the centre provided skills to help prisoners find work on release.

"The interface we chose was designed to resemble Windows as closely as possible so when prisoners are released back into the community they are still familiar with where things are in the Microsoft [operating system]," Wullen said.

The very popular education offer led to this week's deployment.

"We're only at 25 percent capacity [of 300 potential inmates] but all the IT training courses have been applied for," Wullen said.

"The popularity justified the second phase. The infrastructure is already in place. It's just a financial decision that has to be made."

Cybersource product and services manager Ron Fabre praised the State Government.

"A huge thing [in the ACT] is to ensure prisoners are able to slowly reintegrate back into society," Fabre said.

"The ACT is remarkably forward-thinking in that regard because they are trying to rehabilitate prisoners rather than just punish them."

Read on to page two to see for the system architecture and what else is possible.

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