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Why We Must Teach Prisoners To Be Digitally Savvy

18/11/2016 13:11

Deep in the throes of the digital age, it seems almost inconceivable that anybody could survive in the current job market without a developed understanding of smartphones, apps and technology.

So, imagine being a rehabilitated prisoner, walking back out into the world without even a working knowledge of what most of us take for granted? I'm calling for greater digital infrastructure in prisons to ensure ex-offenders aren't completely left behind on release.

Our Government consistently, and in my view correctly, tells us education should sit at the very heart of prisons and be the catalyst for inmates to turn their lives around and create a safer society.

The Dame Sally Coates review, published earlier this year, asserts this very point, and Justice Secretary Liz Truss also says prisons should be centres of reform where offenders can get "the education and skills they need to find work".

I very much welcome this direction, but what our prisons desperately need is better access to technology so we can really improve the digital literacy of inmates.

Novus recognises how critical IT and digital are as core skills for people seeking employment. In fact, our research tells us learners who engage with education are 24% more likely to gain employment in the job market, with its ever-expanding digital focus.

As the needs of employers grow, it becomes even more vital to improve those skills. However, much of the infrastructure is not up to date to support the digital agenda - this is something that needs debating at the highest level.

The problem is actually two-fold - there are those who have been inside since before the advent of social media, and also those who will go into custody right now and fall behind in the evolving digital world.

Employers' perceptions of ex-offenders and their employability is improving, but many people recognise that starting their own business on release presents the best chance of getting their break, and ultimately reintegrating into society and leaving a life of crime behind them.

But, can you imagine starting your own business without a developed level of understanding of social media and digital communication tools? It's difficult to comprehend.

What the Coates Review does recognise, however, is how risk-averse some prisons are to inmates' access to digital technology inside.

Whilst we understand this concern on the surface, we would welcome the opportunity to work together with our prison service colleagues to push the digital agenda forward and create even better foundations for change, ensuring those that leave prison can integrate properly and cut the cycling of reoffending.

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