Dominic Raab wants prisoners to have internet access in their cells to allow them to become ‘masters of their own destiny’. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, the justice secretary said: ‘I would want a presumption that rather than just sitting back in their bunk … waiting for release to hit them, offenders in their cell can take advantage of technology to take a bit of control and responsibility for their life. To be masters of their own destiny, even in the institutional setting fo a prison, and start preparing themselves.’
Raab said that there would be clear restrictions on what could be accessed and prisoners considered high risk would not have access. The comments raised hope amongst prison education providers, charities and campaigners who have been campaigning for in-prison technology. ‘If you think of the four or five strands of rehabilitation and reform of offenders, getting them off drugs, some of that treatment can be done online,’ Raab said. ‘Mental health support can be done online. Skills can be done online. Applying for jobs can be done online. Staying in contact with loved ones in a more regular way can be done online.’
Raab also outlined plans for prisoners to have ‘passports’ where they will be expected to amass ‘stamps’ for skills they learn and training they complete as well as keeping a record of how they maintain family contacts and whether they have stable accommodation to go to on release.
According to the Charles Hymas writing for the Telegraph, it is an idea he has brought to the MoJ which is ‘now being worked up by officials’ for a Prison white paper. ‘It means offenders will receive “digital backpacks” from the point they enter prison providing what Mr Raab describes as a “passport for reentry into society with all the things that they need to notch up, the stamps if you like, to make that work.’
The interview was conducted at the £170m new-build Glen Parva prison in Leicester and one of six jails in the government’s £4 billion prison-building programme to provide 18,000 extra places by the mid-2020s. This will cope with the ‘expected surge in criminals’ being jailed as a result of police officers recruited to make up for the cuts imposed by the Coalition government as well as the raft of longer sentences proposed by the present administration.
‘The cells – lighter and airier due to the bigger windows – look more like student rooms and are set in a campus-style lay-out with wider corridors in the blocks to minimise the confrontations which can happen when prisoners pass each other on the narrow terraced walkways of a Victorian jail,’ Hymas reported. The prison will be ‘a testbed’ for Raab’s plans to ‘open up the prison “workforce” to employers’. ‘Frankly, it ought to work as in any other workforce which is that there’s a pool of labour there, those that are able and willing and security-vetted, and you give employers access to them,’ Raab said.