The Prisons Strategy White Paper, published 7 December 2021, set out a new plan to deliver the biggest prisons programme in more than 100 years including an additional £550 million to reduce reoffending.
The measures included:
- Making sure prisoners gain basic standards of numeracy and literacy while inside – ensuring every single prisoner has a basic level of English and maths so they are equipped for work on release, and a new Prisoner Education Service to train up offenders with vocational skills including construction and coding – improving their job prospects and steering them clear of crime.
- A new drive to get offenders into work – introducing a new job-matching service that pairs offenders up with vacancies in the community on release and dedicated employment advisors in prisons to help offenders find work.
- Resettlement Passports to put proper plans in place for prisoners on release – providing all prisoners with a personalised passport that brings together all the things offenders need to start looking for work straight away, including a CV, identification and a bank account as well as vital support services in the community.
- The 6 new prisons to be built over the next 5 years will have the latest in technology – meaning more in-cell learning so offenders leave prison with the skills they need to move away from crime and into employment. This will include basic education like maths and English, vocational skills such as IT and engineering, and even driving theory tests so they can get a licence on release – helping them get to and from work.
There is a need for greater emphasis on technology and the benefits it can bring to learning; additionally, there is a persuasive case for enabling prisoners and those leaving prison to develop digital skills, while of course being properly managed. This would facilitate not only re-engagement with society, but provide extra opportunity to find employment.
As we developed the Digital Poverty Alliance we were fortunate to have started to form a relationship with a small mentoring charity called Trailblazers who were keen to understand how equipping and enabling young prison leavers might help them to better adjust to life outside prison and to re-engage with all aspects of life from housing and work to friends and family relationships. They are already successful and of those young people who have been mentored through Trailblazers, fewer than 1 in 5 re-offend compared to the national average of nearly 3 in 5.
We must not underestimate the importance of this – at an individual level, of course, it sees them succeed in turning their lives around albeit through hard work by the youngster concerned and their mentor. BUT there is an important economic case to argue too. The average costs of keeping a young person in prison is £59,000pa. For every 100 people who are supported and don’t go on to reoffend the savings are £6million, with the total cost of reoffending estimated by the MoJ as £18 billion pa.
At the same time we were in discussion with Intel UK who were interested in understanding, especially post pandemic, how they could work with us to build back better through their RISE initiative. Fortuitously these three organisations combined to form a new Proof of Concept pilot scheme called “Tech4PrisonLeavers”.
This pilot scheme will offer access to devices, connectivity and to digital skills mentoring from specialists retained by Trailblazers. The aim will be to reduce re-offending rates and support young prison leavers with employment opportunities and life skills.
The Tech4PrisonLeavers programme will tackle the multiple determinants of digital poverty, by providing devices, connectivity, skills, and mentoring to a priority group of 20-25 people leaving prison.
Digital poverty, defined by the DPA as the “inability to interact with the online world fully, when, where and how an individual needs to”, has been identified as a significant issue among young men, with a recent HM inspectorate reportv showing that 4 out of 10 young men being released from prison into the community do not have access to education or training and 47% do not have access to the internet.
In addition to the three core partners, the programme will bring together a number of other major partners, each of which will bring their specialist knowledge and expertise to the project. These partners include:
- HMP & YOI (Young Offenders Institution) at Brinsford prison in Wolverhampton.
- The Institute for Community Research and Development at the University of Wolverhampton who will conduct the evaluation.
At the end of the 18-month pilot, the DPA will prepare a white paper which will be shared with the Government to demonstrate the impact of addressing digital poverty on re offending rates and assess the potential to scale the proof of-concept to a wider pilot or roll out in the future.
Evaluation will be carried out by the Institute for Community Research and Development (ICRD) which works with, in, and for our local communities to deliver effective community-based transformational projects, drive policy developments, and promote social mobility. Their work fits into three key areas: inequality and social analysis, immigration and migration, and criminal justice and violence reduction.
They have significant expertise in evaluating the impact of programmes in prisons and with former prisoners as they reenter the community. A selection of their research projects and reports can be found through their website: www.wlv.ac.uk/icrd
The information below briefly outlines the approach to evaluating this new, innovative programme to address digital poverty in young men leaving prison.
The evaluation will investigate if and how Trailblazers’ programme to address digital poverty for young men leaving prison is:
- Working towards reduction in offending/reoffending (mediating factors).
- Improving the confidence, skills, and wellbeing of participants.
- Improving aspirations and perceived ability to find employment and achieve goals.
The evaluation will take a mixed-methods approach to understanding the impact of the programme over an initial 12 month period. Quantitative measures of change over time will be used to understand if the programme is having an impact. Qualitative methods will provide an understanding of how impact is being achieved and participant’s experience of the programme. The qualitative findings will be presented as case studies to illuminate participants’ stories and experiences. The findings will be placed within the appropriate research evidence base and policy-context.
We will seek to implement a comparison group design1(subject to HMPPS National Research Committee approval) when looking at mediating factors linked to offending/reoffending. Data will be collected about participants in the programme and will also be collected from a comparison group of young men leaving other prison(s), who would not have had the opportunity at this time point to take part in the programme. The comparison group allows for testing whether any changes can reliably be attributed to the programme.
Paul Finnis, CEO of the Learning Foundation and Digital Poverty Alliance