Moving people safely and securely within the criminal justice system

Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service

Image of a Serco van leaving a prison


Prisoner Escort and Custody Services enables users to request moves from police stations, prisons, custody suites and courts, in order to move people within the criminal justice system between these establishments. Since 1994, the contract has been outsourced – in 2017, the contract undertook over 622,000 moves coming from police custody suites, prisons and courts across the country, covering around 10.5 million miles of distance

I was hired to help with the digital transformation of the fourth generation of this service in 2019, leading the design across the entire programme of work over multiple streams. The revised contracts for the Prisoner Escort and Custody Service (PECS) built on the current arrangements within England and Wales - introducing an updated fleet of escort vehicles with enhanced safety and security features, and an innovative digital platform which provides real-time data on the location of detainees and prisoners who are being moved.

The project presented a complex landscape: our service needed to integrate with different prison databases and authentication systems as well as provide a front-end interface for users, whilst also developing an API so that suppliers could integrate with the product.


During development of MoJ’s ‘Book a Secure Move’, we utilised dual-track agile – extending the agile process to include discovery, running parallel to delivery. We benefited from continuous learning – through a wealth of learning opportunities through qualitative feedback and quantitative data to make evidence-based decisions. We experienced better outcomes with less waste – through better understanding of our users we only delivered products that were desirable, viable and feasible, while also being bolder when exploring ideas.

Image of design iteration annotated with issues identified in research along with proposed updates

Collaborating to analise qualitative data from usability testing

Understanding and communicating the different parts of a complex service

To understand the existing space, we conducted research with all users across the criminal justice system – including Police, Courts and Prisons – running a mixture of initiatives, including quantitative and qualitative methods, such as journey mapping, focus groups, interviews, usability testing, and surveys. We aligned the needs of users with the wider goals within the contract, alongside meeting the technical complexities we had identified.

I created a service map to visualise the differing parts of the existing end-to-end service, enabling the team and stakeholders to see how the service worked for everyone. This included sequenced user actions, touchpoints they interact with (on and offline), artefacts they require / create, and the systems behind the scenes. This helped us identify problems and opportunities (particularly upstream) throughout the existing service, and informed the design of the new service.

Discovering problems and framing them as challenges

From planning a move to calculating its price after completion, a considerable admin burden is placed upon users due to inefficient ways of working - entailing a mix of tools, manual processes and disjointed channels. This impacts information relevant to moves (for example, risk and health) – often being out of date or missing as users are required to access and maintain separate systems, using inconsistent formats and local ways of working. This leads to delays and errors in transportation, and heightened risk for people being moved and those they come into contact with. In addition, Assurance and Finance teams need to manually complete checks and assure moves from the previous month (approximately 5,000 moves).

Problems were framed as ‘How Might We” challenges, to generate creative solutions, while keeping team members focused on solving the right problems.

Collaborating to solve challenges

We engaged with a wide range of stakeholders and users over multiple departments and at multiple levels across the criminal justice system – including prisons, police, courts, NHS and third-party suppliers at portfolio, programme and service level.

We collaborated to address challenges and develop solutions through creative workshops which I designed and facilitated – ensuring the service was desirable for users, viable for the business and technically feasible. Solutions were prototyped for research with real users in real environments. Research findings were synthesised to identify trends and insights, which were shared and prioritised with the wider team to inform the next iteration. We quickly adapted during the pandemic to minimise disruption, switching to remote working.

Image of dthe artefacts generated from a condensed design sprint

Design artefacts generated from a condensed design sprint

Identifying potential service gaps to mitigate risk

Due to the nature of the environment and people involved throughout the service, I developed ‘stress cases’ in order to encourage the team to consider people who might fall outside of the parameters of common use cases (for example, children or transgender people held in custody). This helped identify gaps within the service that may lead to failure, which we investigated further to identify the root causes. We then planned for the worst-case scenarios in our service to mitigate the risk of failure (such as someone being harmed).

Using analytics to further refine our solutions

Once live, analytics were used to help further refine our service. For example, we identified a serious performance problem at the same time every week – further investigation revealed the cause being multiple people downloading reports simultaneously which, combined with database performance issues, was affecting the site. I worked with the tech leads to address this by optimising the database queries and changing the design of the page to reduce load time.

Image example of quantitative data in the form of a dashboard

An example of quantitative data in the form of a dashboard

Making sure everyone could use the service

From the outset, we developed ‘Book a Secure Move’ to GDS Service Standards and meet Accessibility and Assisted digital needs. We implemented WCAG2.1 guidelines and conducted research with users with specific needs (where possible) to ensure the service could be used by those with visual, hearing, cognitive or physical impairments.


As of today, the ‘Book a Secure Move’ service is rolled out across every police custody suite, prison, and youth establishment in England and Wales. It is used daily by over 20,000 users across the criminal justice system, in over 700 establishments to book over 1500 moves per day. whether to request moves or to update risk assessments on the service, or to manage capacities in prisons and identify if any capacity issues need to be addressed. The service has a 95% user satisfaction rating and 97% user engagement.

Suppliers performing moves can process the move requests for individuals (including risk and health information) and plan moves accordingly. They can also manage moves, and record events against moves which can be seen by receiving establishments.

Ministry Of Justice employees can monitor moves in progress and access the reporting function to identify how the service is performing. 97% of the moves are now automatically costed, and do not need to be assured by operational teams.

The work has been awarded 'Collaboration of the Year’ and ‘Innovation of the Year’ awards by MOJ Project Delivery function in 2021.

Thank you for the excellent work, perseverance and superhuman effort seen across the teams to deliver the significant solutions and services which have been provided on behalf of the PECS Generation 4 Programme. The systems, engagement, supporting services and continued improvements that have been delivered to colleagues across the justice estate have proven to be not only well received, but also facilitating significant positive change in this environment.

Robert Urquhart
Senior Business Change Lead, MOJ

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