On Wednesday 12 June, the Learning Together team, together with our digital partner, Coracle Inside, held a Digital Innovation Roundtable at HMP Whitemoor. The roundtable brought together Learning Together students, leaders, and innovators in the design and use of digital technologies for learning, including in secure settings. Together, participants aimed to:
- consider the current ‘state of the art’ in terms of policy and practice in the use of digital technologies to support learning in prisons and post-release;
- share insight from research about the potential of digital technologies to contribute to the development of rehabilitative cultures through building community, trust and skills;
- identify opportunities for collaboration and digital innovation between relevant stakeholders across research, policy, practice and business; and
- chart a shared vision for collaboration and digital innovation and specific next steps towards realising that vision.
One of our Learning Together students and mentors at Whitemoor, Dave, took part in the roundtable and, in this blog post, shares some of his reflections about the event.
As I sit in my cell hunched over a tiny table, working on an assignment for the Level 3 Award in Education and Training, I am forced to pause as I recognise that the more writing I do in-cell, the more I will have to replicate once I am granted access to a computer terminal. In that pause, I reflect on what was said at the Digital Innovation Conference organised by the Learning Together team at the University of Cambridge. The conference, hosted in our Learning Together Study Centre at HMP Whitemoor where I am resident, consisted of roundtable discussion about the use of digital technologies to support learning in prisons, and the use of those same technologies to contribute towards rehabilitation by building trust, a sense of community and new relevant skills in preparation for release. The aim was to identify opportunities for collaboration and a shared vision with achievable, time-bound targets.
To this end, the conference was attended by representatives of corporate organisations and institutions including; Google, Coracle Inside, the Prison Reform Trust, the Department for Work and Pensions, G4S, Milton Keynes College, Prison Governors, HMPPS Education and Employment managers, the Head of Education for Long Term High-Security Estate, a selection of Heads of Learning and Skills from different prisons, Education Managers, the HMPPS Cyber Security Team representative, Whitemoor students and a Learning Together student who was previously a resident at HMP Whitemoor, who is now actively seeking employment.
It was great to meet all of these influential people and to hear of their shared aspirations in relation to ‘in-cell tech’. All agreed that prisons must remain relatively up to date with technological advances, and that prisons should be geared towards paperless administration. There is now an opportunity to bring learning, via digital platforms, into cells by way of portable technology that would not incur the costs associated with institutional infrastructure – screens hardwired into cells and bolted to walls – and which would not replace the essential practice of face-to-face learning.
Everyone agreed that we all want safe access to non-networked hardware, in the shape of chromebooks, which have been trialled successfully by the Learning Together team, with software that will enable the enhancement of basic skills and the development of skills necessary for future employment and career development.
Chromebooks used in-cell would allow resident learners to develop word processing and data handling skills; to listen to podcasts and watch education video clips; and to remain up to date with the types of technology enjoyed by our families (imagine not being able to relate to anything your children are engaging with).
It is safer and cheaper to have technology which can be issued into possession for a period of time, but occasionally that tech will require updates, synchronisation and downloading of date for printing or submission; activities which will have to be facilitated at a hub on the wing and supervised or conducted by staff. This may be seen as a burden where staff need to be trained and allocated to such duties, however it would not be necessary for individual prisons to maintain frequent and impractical security reviews of usage, since every keystroke and action can be monitored remotely by cyber security experts at HMPPS headquarters following each connection to the aforementioned hub.
Soon, people in prison could have the opportunity for the data they generate to be saved digitally, whereby CVs, assignments and evidence of achievements can move with as they progress through the prison system to release. There may even be an option to connect with other learners by watching video messages, receiving emails and responding electronically.
But, all of these positive outcomes will soon be measured against public perception. Is it right that inmates have access to technology that will enable inclusion in society upon release? Yes, but to validate such claims, and so to allow for in-cell digital technology to become normal, more is required than a commitment to learning from government agencies and education institutions. More is required than the active development and production of prison safe hardware and software: inmates too will have to commit to appropriate behaviour in order that trust can be built and maintained.