From education to employment

Closing the digital skills gap is vital for reducing crime in 2023,” says prison tech entrepreneur

Entrepreneur James Tweed has called for greater efforts to be made towards closing the digital skills gap

Digital technology has the potential to transform lives, but millions of people are being left with a lack of digital skills, a tech entrepreneur has said. 

James Tweed, Managing Director of Coracle, believes that the prison population are leaving prison with little to no digital skills, and struggling to reintegrate into our increasingly digital society as a result.

Coracle is one of the very few companies in the UK authorised by the Ministry of Justice to provide inmates with computers. Tweed believes that digital skills are an essential part of getting back into employment, and by teaching prisoners digital skills society can reduce crime.

“Many people feel that prisoners shouldn’t have access to laptops, but this fails to see the bigger picture,” he said.

“Having digital skills is a necessity for creating a CV, applying for jobs, arranging interviews and so on. Without these skills, ex-offenders are much less likely to be able to get a job after being released from prison.”

Tweed says he would like 2023 to be a year when closing the digital skills gap between the prison population and wider society becomes a collective goal.

“Prisoners are among the most poorly educated groups in society. A lack of education and skills means finding work is difficult and, once they have a criminal record, it becomes harder still. This leads many back into crime,” he said.

On entering custody, 47% of prisoners have no formal qualifications. Coracle provides laptops to prisoners, pre-loaded with educational content, courses and CV-builders. These ‘offline devices’ mean that prisoners can learn basic skills or training while they are in their cell. 

“Our society is becoming digital on every front. We use apps for everything, cash is disappearing and being able to use the internet is taken as a given.

“But there’s a digital divide opening up and prisoners are on the wrong side of it. Anyone who emerges from prison after a lengthy spell finds themselves in a very different world.” 

The NHS states that in the UK, 11.9 million people do not have the digital skills needed for everyday life. 

Currently, Coracle provides almost 1000 laptops in 50 prisons across the UK. Despite great successes, Tweed says there is still a long way to go.

“By offering prisoners an opportunity to learn digital skills and boost their chances of employment, they are less likely to return to crime.

“It’s good for the prisoner, their families and also for wider society. A lot of crime takes place close to where the perpetrator lives, so the poorest communities will benefit.

“Currently, prisoners are locked up for 22-23 hours per day, with little to do apart from watching daytime TV. Learning is a much better use of their time. 

“We all want a society with less crime and fewer people in prison. But that’s not going to happen unless we work at it.”

About James Tweed

James Tweed is the founder of digital learning company Coracle, which provides inmates at 50 prisons in England and Wales with access to education in their cells. 

Coracle is on a mission to tackle the digital skills gap. Its tech platform means prisoners can safely access content from organisations such as The Open University, Prison Education Trust, Shannon Trust, Aim Awards and DWRM, without using the internet.

Coracle is one of the few companies permitted by the Ministry of Justice and HM Prisons and Probation Service to provide prisoners with laptops for education.

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