Creating the infrastructure to reduce the digital deficit in prisons
A multi-million-pound investment in prison IT infrastructure by prison education provider Novus is now complete.
The project has been designed to support future developments in digital technology in prisons, with the aim of reducing the ‘digital deficit’ of offenders.
This multi-faceted digital transformation saw Novus invest £12.8 million in an upgrade and refresh of the IT infrastructure across the 43 adult prisons in England in which it delivers education, training, employment and support services under the Prison Education Framework.
The updated infrastructure is secure, accredited and on a par with systems in use in equivalent public education settings. As a result, the prisons are ready for the introduction of new digital resources and will be able to respond to future developments in the Ministry of Justice’s digital strategy.
The importance of digital skills has been brought into focus by the shift towards online working over the last 18 months. Prison leavers without these skills are at risk of becoming excluded from both their communities and the employment market. The annual cost to society of reoffending is estimated to be around £15 billion.
When individuals leave custody, they need the confidence, knowledge and skills to adapt to a new life and help to reduce the cycle of reoffending.
Alongside the investment in technology, Novus’ digital transformation project includes the development of a new set of qualifications in Essential Digital Skills, and digital skills training for colleagues across the organisation. These courses are based on the government’s Essential Digital Skills Framework, which defines the skills adults need to safely participate in the digital world.
Peter Cox, Novus’ Managing Director, said: “As an organisation we are committed to making a sustained investment in our services, our people, resources and the infrastructure to support them, to enable us to improve opportunities for our learners.
“A digital deficit has always existed for people in prisons but, by providing our learners with access to the latest secure software, we are helping to reduce the deficit and develop their essential digital skills, which will support them to find employment and access services in the community as they build a positive future."
Practically speaking, this investment will enable ex-offenders to be able to navigate the outside world more easily, source and apply for jobs, and enable them to fully integrate back into society.
The new infrastructure is designed to support assistive technologies used by neurodiverse learners. In recent months, Novus has been involved in a pilot scheme to introduce Scanning Pens, a digital resource that can be used by learners with low-level literacy skills and dyslexia, as well as those taking English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses.
As more prison learners return to the classroom post-Covid, the direct benefits of the investment will continue to grow. New interactive whiteboards in classrooms will give learners a ‘real life’ experience of using technology readily available to those in the community, such as smartphones and tablets.
Better connectivity and more reliable access to the Virtual Campus (the secure internet access provided by HMPPS to approved websites such as job boards, local councils and external online learning) will support learners’ education, job applications and resettlement plans.
David, a Novus tutor at HMP Humber, is already experiencing the benefits of the new technology in supporting both learners and colleagues. He said: “The new account management software means we now have a more efficient system in place to log the education plans and pathways for learners that will follow them if they move between establishments through to release.
“In a nutshell, this means as soon as a learner is transferred to us, we can quickly set them up to continue with their education journey. For learners, this means our team are prepared to offer them the right support from the minute they join us, with minimum disruption.
“From a teaching perspective, learners are working on technology that is equivalent to what they will use in the outside world, making the transition into education or work on their release easier and giving them the confidence to apply for the opportunities that are available.”