Prisoners should have access to computers and the internet to help with
reintegration into society and reduce reoffending once they are released,
according to research.
Secure, controlled use of the web can also transform education, family contact
and resettlement in jails, the joint Prison Reform Trust and Prisoners Education
Trust report said.
Through the Gateway: How Computers Can Transform Rehabilitation examines the
use of information and communication technology (ICT) in prisons and its
potential as a tool for rehabilitation.
It is based on a survey of jails sent to all prison governors and directors in
England and Wales supported by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS)
Nearly three-quarters (74%) of the prison governors and managers who responded
to the survey agreed that prisoners should have secure and controlled access to
the internet, while 94% agreed ICT skills were necessary for everyday living.
Three quarters (67%) said that prisoners should be able to set up bank accounts
while in prison using ICT.
The report said greater and more effective use of ICT in prisons would improve
opportunities for education, training, employment, resettlement and strengthen
family ties – all factors which have been shown to reduce reoffending on
Nearly half (47%) of adults are reconvicted within one year of release. For
those serving sentences of less than 12 months and young people aged 18-20 this
increases to 58%. In 2011-12, just 27% of prisoners entered employment on
release from prison.
The main barriers for prisons using ICT to improve rehabilitation were concerns
about security, financial constraints, the lack of a co-ordinated strategy,
licensing and insufficient central resources, researchers found.
In the foreword to the report, Nick Hardwick, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons,
wrote: “We can’t go on with prisons in a pre-internet dark age: inefficient,
wasteful and leaving prisoners woefully unprepared for the real world they will
face on release.
“I have not met one prison professional who does not think drastic change is
He added: “Of course, there are security issues that need to be managed but
the technology itself allows every key stroke to be monitored and access can be
“Perhaps there are some who will say computers and the internet are luxuries
prisoners should do without. There was probably some grumbling when they first
put telephones on the wings too and if we want prisons to rehabilitate those
they hold, we have to give them the tools to do so.”
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “Controlled use of ICT
is a sensible way to bring prisons and prisoners into the 21st century.
“Closing the digital divide between people in prison and the community is
vital for effective rehabilitation and resettlement.”
Rod Clark, chief executive, Prisoners Education Trust, said: “These days most
people could not function without computers or the internet and if we can’t
work, find a job or study without the use of ICT, how can we expect people in
prison to do so?
“Technology can provide us with many solutions to help rehabilitate people in
a safe, secure way and if we do not explore them, then we risk sending more
people back into society without the skills or the motivation to live a life
free from crime.”
Mark Leech, editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said he broadly supported the idea.
“I think there is a very valid case for internet access to be made available to prisoners – 48 US States allow some inmates internet access of one sort or another.
“Screened internet access, linked into the incentive earned privileges scheme and made available to those on enhanced regime, is certainly justified and one I would certainly support – but it must be earned by sustained good custodial behaviour, proven progress on offending risk reduction and compliance with the prison rules.”