Dedicated to fostering an environment for positive mental health and successful rehabilitation- Interview with Oliver Drews, CEO Telio Group in Worldleaders Magazine

Welcome our new HR team member

Communication and connection are fundamental human needs that provide comfort and allow people to share their experiences and concerns with others. For inmates, who often have limited physical connections and rely on telephones to stay in touch with family and the outside world, communication is particularly important.

Oliver DrewsCEO of Telio Group, is a Hamburg-based entrepreneur. He is dedicating his life for the last 20 years to the world of prisons. Telio Group develops and delivers communication solutions for ministries and prisons in 23 countries around the world. All Telio products are designed to make an important contribution to the resocialization of inmates. Seeing an urgent need to advocate and build a lobby for the many children of detainees, Oliver Drews founded Connecting Hearts in 2022.

In his position as CEO, his goal has always been to find the right balance between enabling a safe and secure environment for inmates and staff against a backdrop of facilitating rehabilitation.

As a 12-year-old, Oliver participated in a student exchange program that took him to Marseille where he had the opportunity to visit Château d’If, a location featured in the famous movie “The Count of Monte Christo” and known for housing one of the most prominent inmates who was wrongfully accused. He recalls, “At that time, I did not know that the world of corrections would determine my future life. Today a painted picture of this Château hangs on the wall of my office.”

Prior to joining Telio, Oliver underwent a banking apprenticeship. The previous management team of Telio was in search of someone who could bring structure and a serious business perspective to their company, which led them to approach him.

Founding Telio Group

The Telio Group was established in Hamburg, Germany 25 years ago with the goal of revolutionizing and modernizing the penal system through innovative breakthroughs. Its focus on creating smart digital prisons that provide inmates with more opportunities and enable officers to focus on high-value work has been central to its mission. The Telio Group’s solutions contribute to creating a positive work environment. Its journey began with a simple service of providing detainees with telecommunication services via secure hallway phone booths in a few German prisons. Over time, the company has grown into a global company with more than 250 employees operating in 23 countries and serving over 700 facilities worldwide.

Aligning Digitalization and Innovation

The Telio team’s primary focus is to partner with jurisdictions and promote positive correctional outcomes, such as reducing recidivism, to ultimately create safer communities. Their expertise lies solely in corrections, as they do not serve other industries like hotels or hospitals. By listening to their customers’ needs, Telio is committed to providing valuable solutions and dedicated services. Their approach is one of collaboration, and their diverse product and service portfolio includes innovative digital technology programs that help inmates make a fresh start. Telio believes in promoting hope through connection and communication, which includes a greater access to the outside world, social exchange, and contact with family and friends. Bringing normalcy to their lives as far as possible. As the vast majority of inmates return to society Telio wants to equip them to thrive when they return.

Establishing Culture of Integrity and Innovation

The Telio Group is driven by the mission to modernize the correctional landscape and to maximise the outcomes of the jurisdictional partners. Oliver is proud to lead his team in this mission. Its wide range of products and services goes beyond just next-level digital innovation; it is also about promoting rehabilitation and providing inmates with the motivation and desire they need to have a better chance after their release from prison. The management believes that by offering better access to communication, inmates are more likely to successfully reintegrate into society and avoid reoffending, leading to lower crime rates, safer communities, and a reduced burden on the criminal justice system.

As a company, Telio Group strives to look beyond the negative connotations often associated with prisons and instead focus on providing inmates with a second chance at life. It believes that this second chance must be deeply ingrained in the company’s DNA.

Leading with the Spirit to Bring Change

Oliver’s entrepreneurial spirit has been an intrinsic part of his persona, driven by a desire to effect positive change. He firmly believes in the concept of transforming prisons into better spaces through the provision of products and services, creating “Places for a second chance” since he believes everyone deserves one. Despite facing frequent challenges and a busy schedule, his unwavering belief in this mission fuels his daily drive to persevere. To continuously evolve and progress, one must be receptive to novel perspectives and methods, as failing to do so can stifle growth and adaptation.

Aspire to Creating New

Oliver seeks individuals who are passionate about their job, open-minded to new topics, and receptive to constructive feedback. He values those who aspire to contribute to something larger than themselves and are committed to driving progress. To advance innovation, it is crucial to surround oneself with critical thinkers who can offer fresh perspectives and challenge established norms.

Oliver finds being the CEO of Telio an exhilarating experience, given the opportunity to engage with diverse individuals from different nations and functions. He works closely with the International Corrections and Prisons Association (ICPA), a non-governmental organization that aims to promote ethical and effective correctional practices to enhance public safety and healthier communities globally. Oliver hosted thought leaders during the ICPA’s October 2022 event, focusing on the changes in the correctional sector after the pandemic, resulting in a lively discussion on future prospects. Oliver’s curiosity and passion for innovation drives him to seek potential new markets and clients.

Together with his team they are opening new markets, which is augmented further by strategic acquisitions. They are driving innovation and are bringing their services to areas where none exist today. This is how Telio started a pilot project in the largest prison of Namibia in Windhoek in 2019 where about 1000 inmates are using hallway and in-cell telephony now.

A German competitor had been acquired resulting in Finland being a new market, the 23rd, added to the Telio client portfolio. As Finland has been recognised around the world as a best practice in the correctional sector, Telio can be proud to further expand the digitalisation initiated once there.

As a family man, Oliver sees great importance in establishing the Connecting Hearts Foundation in 2022. The foundation’s primary objective is to provide support to children growing up with a parent in prison, which affects more than 2 million children in Europe alone, with the number increasing globally. Unfortunately, these innocent children’s plight receives minimal attention from society. The Connecting Hearts Foundation aims to improve the lives of children of detainees through targeted international projects and initiatives with a strong commitment and innovative ideas.

Views on Tech Advancements

Oliver acknowledges the undeniable significance of Artificial Intelligence, which has revolutionized various aspects of people’s lives, ranging from communication to work. Gathering experience with diverse software is necessary to identify the most suitable applications, while also being mindful of the potential risks associated with it, such as susceptibility to cyberattacks and unforeseen consequences resulting from intricate, dynamic systems. The use of AI could become more evident in future prisons, where it could be supportive to monitor inmates, and anticipate potential issues before they escalate. This ensures that correctional facility staff can prioritize their efforts in assisting offenders in their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

Oliver’s curiosity and drive for continuous improvement fuel his pursuit of digital transformation in correctional facilities, pioneering a more socially responsible approach to rehabilitation. This endeavor requires collaboration with research institutions, corporations, and government agencies to gain new insights and generate momentum. This effort may even lead to the creation of a consulting service, as Telio sees the need to partner with jurisdictions to help them modernise and transform by bringing a new perspective to the sector, involving international, interdisciplinary teams from various industries.

Constant Growth in Past Years

Telio Group started its business in 1998, when telephony in corrections was still in its infancy. At the time, telephony was considered a means to reduce inmate isolation and improve their quality of life. However, access to telephony was limited, and inmates often had privacy concerns during their calls. Recognizing the need for modernization in the correctional landscape and the potential benefits of connecting inmates to the outside world, Telio set out to provide innovative solutions to reduce the rate of recidivism.

In Europe, the group has focused on providing in-cell telephony solutions that meet high security standards and require tailored solutions for each correctional facility. Through strategic company acquisitions such as BVFon in Hungary in 2012 and Sagi in France in 2015, Telio has been able to further expand its product and service portfolio from communications to video visitation solutions, and even to the detection and neutralization of prohibited mobile devices, which are often smuggled into correctional facilities.

Over the course of 25 years, the Group’s product advancements have positioned it as a thought leader in the industry, inspiring jurisdictions to view correctional communications differently and to realize the goals that Telio has helped them to create.

Expanding the Reach

The group’s team is working on user-friendly tools to streamline prison administration processes, such as fast and efficient processing of inmate requests and access to information. Telio is thinking beyond automation, and sees the opportunity to leap frog paper based processes, embracing hyper automation and moving to ones that are digitised, incorporate RPA and leverage AI for decision support. Speeding up the process and enabling decision making more accurately aligned to policy. It enhances the inmate experience and further reduce the workload of correctional officers. This can provide inmates with a sense of self-sufficiency and freedom of choice even in a controlled environment like a correctional facility. A fast and efficient data exchange is essential for both inmates and administration staff to ensure effective communication and decision-making.

Telio Group is committed to modernizing the correctional system and offering more compassionate services, which is why they are also looking to expand into emerging markets such as Central and South Africa. With over 11 million people imprisoned worldwide and overcrowding and staff shortages being common issues, Oliver and the company believe that electronic monitoring solutions, such as electronic bracelets, can be a safe and effective alternative to traditional sentencing.

“By developing a reliable and secure electronic monitoring solution, we can help jurisdictions embrace a more modern approach to corrections and keep families together. Thousands of children will no longer have to be separated from their parents as they serve their sentence at home rather than being sent to a prison” explains Oliver. Telio Group is eager to support this development and provide a better future for those affected by the correctional system.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the life blood of what we do, our people”, states Oliver.

At the group, the team values open intercultural exchange and promote a work environment that encourages trust, respect, passion, and fun. The team consists of individuals from various nations, and it believes that the group’s openness and willingness to collaborate across cultures are essential to achieving its mission.