Increasing opportunities for prisoners to engage with digital outside of the classroom: a case study from HMP Wealstun

Having digital skills, connectivity, confidence, and motivation means prison leavers are better able to succeed in the areas of their lives that make people less likely to reoffend such as finding secure housing, accessing work, and building positive support networks.

100% Digital Leeds is leading a project, in partnership with HMP Wealstun and others, to tackle digital exclusion for prisons, prisoners, and prison-leavers.

Digital inclusion to support the reduction of reoffending

Taking a community and strengths based approach 100% Digital Leeds is working with partners already supporting prisoners, prison leavers, and ex-offenders to embed digital inclusion support into their existing services. 

The project is split in to 3 key strands:

  • Improving in-prison support for improved digital skills, confidence, and motivation for prisoners
  • Improving the transition between internal and external support for prison leavers
  • Improving community digital inclusion support for ex-offenders

Improving in-prison support for improved digital skills, confidence, and motivation for prisoners

Due to strict legislation around access to digital devices and connectivity, in many prisons the only real opportunity for prisoners to engage with digital is in an IT learning suite as part of a formal educational environment. Engaging with learning and education is ‘opt in’ and only a fraction of prisoners go down this route during their time in prison. Offering more opportunities to engage with digital outside of a classroom environment allows more prisoners to develop their digital skills and confidence in an environment in which they feel comfortable, and in a context that feels more relevant to their lives.

Expanding access to digital in workshop settings at HMP Wealstun

Mark Acaster from HMP Wealstun has implemented a digital inclusion pilot in the sewing machine repair workshop at the prison. Giving prisoners the opportunity to engage with digital outside of a formal education setting has been effective in building their confidence and improving their transferable digital skills. 

“I have really enjoyed improving my IT skills as I know they are going to help me upon release.”

Prisoner in the sewing machine workshop, HMP Wealstun

With support from 100% Digital Leeds Mark has secured new equipment, modernised the stock control system, and opened up more opportunities for prisoners to engage with digital software and hardware.

Introducing more opportunities for prisoners to positively engage with digital 

Mark has made several changes to processes within the workshop that allows prisoners more opportunity to engage with digital in a way that is positive and demonstrates the value of digital tools and resources:

  • Updating software from Windows XP, for which updates had been discontinued, to Windows 10 and Office Suite 2021, allowing prisoners to develop their skills using up to date software  
  • Giving prisoners access to sewing machine parts books in PDF format as an alternative to paper catalogues and demonstrating advanced search functions and ability to zoom in to technical drawings as benefits to using the digital version
  • Moving ‘Progress In Workshop’ self-appraisal reports from paper to MS Word and supporting prisoners to complete themselves
  • Teaching prisoners practical keyboard skills that make their work easier such as commonly used keyboard shortcuts 
  • Actively looking for more opportunities to give workers the chance to interact with computing, such as designing workshop signage

The benefits of integrating digital into a work environment

Introducing better and more frequent opportunities to engage with digital in the workshop has benefited prisoners working in the sewing machine workshop: 

  • Prisoners are given the opportunity to engage with digital
  • Prisoners are learning transferable skills which will give them a better chance of securing employment upon release, and ease the transition into work
  • Prisoners are engaged and enjoy having more opportunities to develop their digital skills
  • Prisoners are showing improved digital confidence 
  • Aided by improved IT systems and infrastructure prisoners are able to work more efficiently

Daniel: prisoner case study

When Daniel arrived in the sewing machine workshop he had never used a computer and was very nervous around digital. He has not engaged with any formal IT learning and was not interested in doing so. Being more comfortable in a work environment, Daniel started down a mechanical path repairing sewing machines. He later found he had more of an aptitude for the monitoring and recording side of the workshop which saw him being introduced to using more of the digital systems and processes. 

Daniel has learned a lot of transferable digital skills, starting with the basics such as using a mouse and keyboard but soon progressing to more advanced office admin tasks such as:

  • Booting up and shutting down a computer
  • Saving files in different formats such as PDF
  • Inputting and interpreting data
  • Creating jobs and logging stock 
  • Using workflows
  • Using Word and Excel

“I was very nervous about ICT when I came in but it has exceeded my expectations and I’ve learned a lot. I wouldn’t have used computers naturally but I enjoy the work that I do now and have found a niche. It’s great because it’s what I’m supposed to know on the outside. Things that seemed too complicated are more simple for me now and I’m able to help others.” 

Daniel, HMP Wealstun

Daniel has developed so much that he is now able to independently problem solve and troubleshoot simple IT issues. His newfound confidence has seen Daniel become a Peer Support Mentor within HMP Wealstun, a role where other prisoners are able to come to him for advice and he can be a positive model of the benefits of digital inclusion. 

Next Steps

100% Digital Leeds will work with HMP Wealstun to explore further opportunities to embed digital within prisoner work environments. We will deliver a digital inclusion awareness workshop with staff to further understand the digital inclusion needs of this prisoner cohort and the capacity of workshops to introduce digital into their systems and processes in a way that opens up digital access to more prisoners.