Should prisoners be given iPads for Offender Learning?


According to a new report, the Government are considering giving inmates in-cell iPads to assist with offender learning and family relationships.


These iPads would be used to allow prisoners greater access to offender learning education materials, as well as applications such as Skype, to promote better communication between an inmate and family members.

There has been considerable criticism of both the amount of time prisoners spend in the cell, and the level of access they receive for educational materials. Prison libraries have been dismissed as understocked and having poor access schemes, meaning that inmates that wish to find books or materials to assist in their education are unlikely to be able to do so.

The law banning people from sending prisoners books has finally been lifted this year, allowing inmates to request and receive materials from  the outside. Despite this, there is a long delay between a prisoner requesting a book and actually receiving it, due to unavoidable processes, such as security checks. This means that any materials requested by a prisoner may well be of little relevance to the course they are studying, by the time it is received. Having access to iPads would open the door to the possibility of allowing prisoners instant access to approved offender learning materials, as well as enhancing literacy, numeracy and technology skills in the process.

Sir Martin Narey, an adviser to the Ministry of Justice and former head of the UK prison service, believes that this idea must be considered. He told The Times that inmates should be meeting a tutor once a week, but also should be doing work on literacy and numeracy on their own.

Criticisms of the plan include the cost of supplying prisoners with an iPad, when many families could not imagine being able to afford one, and allowing people that are being punished access to such high level technology. When addressing these criticisms, Sir Martin Narey responded that there has always been fears, often unfounded, of prisoners being given access to technology.

“When I joined the prison service in 1982 people were terrified of allowing prisoners to have FM radios,” he said.

“They worried about having telephones on wings, but prisoners should be Skyping or Facetiming their children. 

“We should use technology for education and to maintain family times.”

These tablets would have safeguards built in to the system, imposing strict restrictions on what applications and content prisoners would be able to access.

From an Offender Learning perspective, this development has to be seen as a real chance to develop the education system, which is struggling to reach the standard required, to a level that allows much higher success and satisfaction rates for inmates and staff alike. 

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