The chancellor’s spending review should include a “major investment” so that every prisoner has access to a digital device and the internet in their cell, according to the Prisoners’ Education Trust.
Rishi Sunak, who will deliver his spending review next week, has been called on by the charity for the investment after the Covid-19 lockdown exposed how prisons are “stuck in the digital dark ages”.
The Centre for Social Justice published a report in January and found that only 18 out of the 117 prisons in England and Wales have the cabling or hardware required to support broadband in cells.
And when the pandemic struck, face-to-face learning was replaced by worksheets posted under doors which were deemed unhelpful to more than half of those who received them, according to a survey published by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons in February.
Prisoners were kept in their cells for 23 hours a day during the 18-month prison lockdown.
The Prisoners’ Education Trust believes digital devices and “secure, limited access” to the internet in every cell would allow prisoners to use their time to “access educational materials, helping them to ‘level up’ and better prepare for digital life on release”.
The charity said it could not put an estimated figure on how much funding would be needed exactly, but it would be over £100 million.
This year’s Centre for Social Justice report noted that the Ministry of Justice estimates that the cost of installing the hardware necessary to support broadband throughout the country’s prison estate would be in the region of £100 million.
Devices for each prisoner are estimated to then cost around £207 per prisoner, according to think tank Reform. Considering there are around 79,000 prisoners in the country, the devices alone would cost over £16 million.
Then there would also be the cost of any necessary educational content plus the cost of installing the devices, training for staff, along with ongoing running costs.
Jon Collins, chief executive of the Prisoners’ Education Trust said: “Everyone in prison, wherever they are in the country and whatever their background, should have access to education. Digital technology can help to make this happen.
“It is possible to provide safe, secure intranet and internet access to people in prison and in-cell devices would open up a world of educational opportunities. Without this, the digital divide will become a chasm, with prison leavers re-entering society ill-equipped to cope in a digital world. It is time prisons move out of the digital dark ages.”
A prison service spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice said: “We’ve kept education running throughout the pandemic with digital technology and in-cell learning.
“Education is key to reducing reoffending and we are restarting face-to-face learning where it is safe to do so.”
The spending review will take place on October 27.