In today’s digital-first world, being disconnected from the internet and its myriad resources is not just inconvenient; it is a significant barrier to reintegration and a hindrance to equal opportunities. The plight of former prisoners, re-entering society only to find themselves adrift in a rapidly evolving digital landscape, underscores a critical, yet often overlooked, aspect of our social fabric. This is where the Digital Poverty Alliance’s Tech4PrisonLeavers project steps in – not merely as an initiative but as a necessity in our efforts to forge a more inclusive society.

The digital divide is not a new topic, but its implications are far-reaching, affecting not just the economically disadvantaged but also those emerging from the prison system. These individuals face daunting barriers, from accessing basic services online to applying for jobs that are almost exclusively listed on internet platforms. It is a catch-22 where the lack of digital literacy directly impacts their ability to secure employment and, by extension, their potential for a stable, law-abiding life post-incarceration.

Elizabeth Anderson, CEO of the Digital Poverty Alliance, articulately highlights the stakes involved. “In a marketplace where 90% of job vacancies are found online, and digital transformation dictates market trends, essential digital skills are not just beneficial – they are imperative,” she asserts. Anderson’s point is not merely an observation but a call for systemic change. It is an acknowledgment that without these critical skills, former inmates are set up to fail from the start.

The Tech4PrisonLeavers project, supported by Intel and in partnership with Capgemini and Vodafone, was conceived as more than just a training programme. It is a lifeline. Out of the twenty-three men who committed to the programme, fifteen crossed the finish line, with several securing employment. This success, however, is not just about numbers. It is about lives changed and potential unlocked. Yet, the variable levels of digital literacy among the participants remind us that one size does not fit all; personalised learning approaches are crucial.

Later this spring, a white paper detailing the findings and actionable recommendations of the Tech4PrisonLeavers project will be published. This document will serve as a blueprint for scaling the successes achieved and addressing the challenges encountered. The insights it promises to provide could fundamentally shift how we support not just former prisoners but any marginalised community facing similar digital barriers.

What then should be our collective response?

It begins with recognising digital literacy as a fundamental right, akin to education and healthcare. From the Ministry of Justice to the Prison Service, expanding support means more than access to devices – it is about comprehensive digital education, robust pre-release programmes, and continued support once individuals step back into society.

Moreover, collaboration with employers and enhancing probation services are not just strategic moves but moral imperatives. They are about creating a society that truly rehabilitates and integrates its members, not one that cycles them back through the prison doors.

As we think about the role of initiatives like Tech4PrisonLeavers, it is clear they are not just beneficial but essential. They serve as pillars of what can be achieved when we choose to empower rather than marginalise. For in addressing the digital divide, we are not just solving a logistical challenge we are healing a social rift, offering a second chance to those who, after paying their debt to society, deserve no less than a fair start.