Core Systems: The transformation software has made to the corrections industry

  • Sync NI sat down with Patricia O'Hagan, CEO at Core Systems and recent winner of the Outstanding Woman In Tech Award, to learn more about how the company’s software has helped to transform the corrections industry. 

    Core Systems is a local software company, founded 20 years ago by Patricia O'Hagan and her husband, that develops software used in the corrections industry. The primary focus of the software is to support people throughout their journey within the justice system. The software aims to help not only prisoners but the staff and the people that interact with them too. 

    Patricia first started out her journey while she was doing work for local prisons. In doing so she realised that there were a large number of different systems to manage all aspects of a prisoner's life which were still paper based. Patricia notes: “It was like technology hadn't touched the systems at all.” 

    This inspired Patricia to start her journey. She saw that there was an opportunity to make things better by connecting the prisoners directly to the information that they were entitled to get through technology. 

    Patricia explains: “In that environment, people tend to have all their choices taken away from them. They lose the skills they need to go back into society,  they lose hope. I really wanted to enable them to get more involved in those choices and give them the skills they needed to be successful back in the community. So it was very much driven by trying to transform the prison industry so that people had a better experience and better outcomes as a result of that.” 

    The software that Core Systems have developed over the last 15 years has been prisoner focused. Recently, they have brought all that knowledge together and started from scratch again to build a product called Pathway.  

    Pathway is a secure platform that the prisoners and staff have access to which enables a number of things to happen. It allows the staff to communicate with prisoners and also allows prisoners to keep in touch with family and friends, all digitally, through text, voice or video.  

    In addition to this, the software also allows prisoners access to services and information. For example, they can make a choice about their food, choose a meal from the meal options and place an order for the tuck shop. 

    Patricia adds: “I think most importantly, we're getting into the area of self help and education, where people can access education programs or  vocational skills and pick up those skills while they're in prison. People are locked up in their cells between 12 and 23 hours a day. To do education, traditionally, prisoners would have to go to the classroom in the prison and they’d be lucky if they got that once a week. With COVID and lockdown, people lost all those opportunities and that was a great accelerator for what we do. To look into prison services and think about using digital platforms to deliver services like education, health care and communications. We're trying to give them a real life experience of the things that you and I do.”  

    Patricia says that the pandemic accelerated the company’s future plans for their software. She explains that throughout lockdown prisoners were isolated in their cells and this was having a negative impact on their mental health. To combat this, Core Systems developed software to help with communications, so that prisoners could communicate more effectively with the outside world and talk with their family and friends. They could also have a session with a therapist or health professional.  In addition, the software also allowed them to have a session with the teacher remotely from their cell. 

    Patricia has seen first hand how the software they have developed has helped those who have used it. She explains: “I was at a conference last year and there was a guy presenting who worked for a company that we provide tech to. He said that he was in prison last year, and he named the prison where our technology was. He started doing some of the education and learning while he was locked up. He felt so good about himself that he started helping the other prisoners. He then became a tutor to the other prisoners. When he got out of prison, he actually got a job working for our partner as an industry specialist, because he understood the journey of the people in prison.” 

    Patricia tells us about another time when she was attending a community interaction event. The event was for young people and she was asked to attend to talk about the tech sector. Patricia recalls: “We have some of these young men in the room and we gave them a presentation. Then one of them said, I've used your system and I said: How did you use that?  He said, to keep in contact with my mum. She was in prison at Hydebank.” Patricia recalls what an amazing feeling it was to see how her software had helped this young man stay in touch with his mother. 

    Core Systems is made up of a team from diverse backgrounds and there are a number of pathways into a career at the company. One of these pathways is through the foundation degree technology course. Patricia explains: “Firstly, applicants do a four month placement. If this works out for them and us we would keep them on and they would work part time with us through their whole degree.” Patricia adds: “At the end of that degree they’re always very successful, they always get firsts, and it's because they've got so much real life production knowledge.”  

    Another route the company has is through QA. They recruit applicants on aptitude, but again, put them through an internal training course. Patricia adds: “So we have recruited a number of people who were students at the time, in different disciplines. If they had an aptitude and a desire to come into the IT sector, as QA engineers, we put them through our internal training program. Then at the end of that they become a trainee, QA engineer and then develop further.” 

    Patricia says that they have recruited people from a range of different backgrounds and this is vital to their company. She adds: “They could be studying anything, maps, business, anything at all. We've had people who were in hospitality and retail. People who did geography, a historian, all sorts of people.” 

    20 years later, the company and the team at Core Systems are constantly expanding and developing. Patricia concludes: “The main thing for us in the company is the alignment of values, that the people we hire care about what we do. That is worth so much more than people that come to us for other reasons. Increasingly, people are coming to us because they want to make a difference and help people.” 

    About the author

    Aoife is a Sync NI writer with a previous background working in print, online and broadcast media. She has a keen interest in all things tech related. To connect with Aoife feel free to send her an email or connect on LinkedIn.

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