Prisoners should be allowed ‘controlled access to the internet’, according to a Westminster think tank aimed at public service reform . The new report by Reform (Tools For Transforming Lives) argues that a large number of prisoners leave prison ill-prepared to navigate the digital world and make a number of recommendations including providing prisoners with low-cost mobile phones upon release to updating the prison service rules governing internet access.
Reform highlights what it calls ‘digital neglect’. ‘This digital neglect not only creates barriers for rehabilitation, it also makes prisons far less resilient to the coronavirus, as without digital contingencies, services in prisons have been paralysed,’ the group continued. ‘The Government is right to put prisons under tight lockdown to stop the virus spreading, but it was not inevitable that rehabilitation would be locked down too.’ The focus should be on supporting prisoners to desist from offending, argues the report, which, in turn, will mean fewer victims of crime. Many prisoners leave custody without even a bank account, and resettlement services have been described as ‘pedestrian at best’ by the Chief Inspector of Prisons. Widening access to in-cell devices and controlled internet access could assist prisoners in accessing resources and interventions to meet individual needs.
Computer-assisted therapies, such as the online Breaking Free recovery support programmes, proven to be effective at tackling addiction and depression, can deliver bespoke help quicker than the other options that exist in prison. Enrolling a prisoner in an offending behaviour programme might take several months, but digital programmes can be accessed at ‘the drop of a hat’. Improving digital services would not only have a positive impact on prisoners but would be extremely beneficial to prison officers, as instead of spending ‘91 hours per week’ dealing with paper application forms, the officers could view a digital application form and process it in significantly less time, leaving more time for valuable interactions with prisoners.
‘Pockets of innovation across the prison estate and abroad demonstrate that secure technology can be used by prisoners to improve outcomes in custody, plan for resettlement, and enable continuous support into the community,’ says the report’s author, Aidan Shilson-Thomas. ‘Technology is fundamental to modern life – now, more than ever – yet government research shows that prisoners are among the most digitally excluded in society.’