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Creating the infrastructure to reduce the digital deficit in prisons

Peter Cox, Novus Managing Director
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A multi-million pound investment in prison IT infrastructure by prison education provider Novus (@Novuschange) has been completed; with the ultimate aim of supporting future developments in digital technology in prisons and helping to reduce the ‘digital deficit’ of offenders in prison.

This multi-faceted digital transformation project saw Novus invest £12.8 million in an upgrade and refresh of the IT infrastructure across all 43 Prison Education Framework (PEF) male and female adult prisons where they deliver education, training, employment and support services in England. The updated secure, accredited and efficient infrastructure is equivalent to that in the public arena – working within stringent security processes – and means the structure is now in place to support the introduction of new digital resources and any future developments from the Ministry of Justice as part of their digital strategy.

What the last 18 months have shown is just how important digital skills are and how quickly the digital world moves forward. Digital skills are essential resettlement skills, people are easily excluded from the community if they can’t access digital services. When individuals leave custody, they need the confidence, knowledge and skills to adapt to a new life and help to reduce the cycle of reoffending, and the monetary cost to society that goes with it, estimated to be around £15 billion.

As well as providing the infrastructure to allow for a sustained growth in new digital technologies, a key part of the Novus digital transformation project is the development of a new set of qualifications in Essential Digital Skills and digital skills training for colleagues across the organisation. Both of which have taken the government’s Essential Digital Skills Framework – which defines the digital skills adults need to safely benefit from – participate in and contribute to the digital world, as a basis for their development.

Peter Cox, Novus Managing Director said:

“As an organisation we are committed to making a sustained investment in our services, our people, resources and the infrastructure to support them, to enable us to improve opportunities for our learners.

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“A digital deficit has always existed for people in prisons but by providing our learners with access to the latest secure software we are helping to reduce the deficit and develop their essential digital skills, which will support them to find employment and access services in the community as they build a positive future. Practically speaking, this investment will enable ex-offenders to be able to navigate the outside world more easily, source and apply for jobs, and enable them to fully integrate back into society.”

A stable IT infrastructure widens opportunity and ensures inclusivity in education for all. It can be crucial to the use of the assistive technologies that support neurodiverse learners and can support new digital resources. In recent months, Novus has been one of the providers involved in a pilot scheme to introduce Scanning Pens into prisons, a digital resource that can be used by learners with low level literacy skills, dyslexia and ESOL learners.

As more learners start to return to the classroom post-Covid, the direct benefits of the investment will continue to grow. New interactive whiteboards in classrooms will give learners a ‘real life’ experience of using technology readily available to those in the community such as smartphones and tablets. Better connectivity and more reliable access to the Virtual Campus (the secure internet access provided by HMPPS to whitelisted websites including job boards, local councils and external online learning) will support learners’ education, job applications and resettlement plans.

A Novus tutor at HMP Humber is already seeing the benefits of the new technology in supporting both learners and colleagues. He said: “The new account management software means we now have a more efficient system in place to log the education plans and pathways for learners that will follow them if they move between establishments through to release, in a nutshell this means as soon as a learner is transferred to us we can quickly set them up to continue with their education journey. For learners, this means our team are prepared to offer them the right support from the minute they join us, with minimum disruption.

“From a teaching perspective the updated technology also means learners are working on technology that is equivalent to what they will use in the outside world, making the transition into education or work on their release easier and giving them the confidence to apply for the opportunities that are available.”

Literacy and numeracy were always are seen as the foundations to build a better future and break the cycle of crime. In today’s society, digital skills have an equally important role to play, supporting inclusion and ongoing relevance in a changing job market. As sectors and the opportunities for work evolve having the infrastructure in place to support a curriculum that responds to today’s employer’s needs and gives men and women equal opportunities to succeed will become a must have.

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