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Technology in Prisons
Having undertaken over 100 telephone interviews with prison education officers in 2008 as part of a government funded research project it soon became clear to me that people working in education/training in secure learning environments within prisons wanted to use technology. However, due to security issues and Government legislation the use of technology within secure learning environments in prisons within the UK was limited to supervised access within the „learning center‟ and no access to the internet or independent learning using computers was permitted.
I decided to undertake further independent, desk based, research during the latter part of 2008 and early 2009 to see if this was common throughout Europe and it emerged that other EU countries had tried, or were in the process of piloting, alternative models and approaches to the education and training of offenders in prisons and the reports coming out of those countries was encouraging. In some instances they were reporting that offenders had access to the Internet and low category prisoners had controlled access to the WWW from within their cells. Norway in particular were designing and building new prisons that incorporated all the necessary infrastructure required to use technology more flexibly and independently.
In early January 2009 I was made aware of the Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship http://www.wcmt.org.uk and having read some of the reports from previous Fellows I decided to make an application to see if I could raise the necessary funding to visit those EU countries that were purporting to be at the leading edge of using technology for teaching and learning within secure environments.
In February 2010, after undergoing a rigorous selection and interview process, I was awarded a 2010 Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship to visit Norway, Sweden and Germany to investigate how technology is currently being used by education/training providers and prisons to enhance offender education and training. The aim of the Winston Churchill Fellowship was simply to observe and gather good practice and, if possible, develop transferable models of good practice and case studies that could be used by those countries just starting to integrate technology into their delivery.
In total twelve Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowships were awarded in the „vocational‟ category and the Director General, Jamie Balfour said: ‘The standard this year was high and we awarded grants only where we felt confident the candidates proposals would bring real benefits to other people, as well as themselves. You should therefore feel rightly proud of your success’.
I was extremely pleased and proud to be awarded a 2010 Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship and hope that this report highlights some of the benefits to society of educating offenders using technology as part of an integrated approach to teaching and learning in prisons and upon release into the community.
One estimate is that the total cost to the UK of recorded crime from re-offending is around £11 billion per year1. Some of this money could therefore be better spent educating/training offenders and giving them a chance to be an asset to society. The challenge is do we have the imagination, commitment and political will to make this happen? I hope we do and I hope this report goes some way to stimulating debate regarding the future of education and training in prisons within the UK and Europe.