Technology in prisons

ACEA Conference

An Update on Computers in Cells

30 November 2021

On November 16th and 17th 2021, the online Australasian Corrections Education Association (ACEA) Conference promoted the benefit of technology in prisons and mental health facilities in making education more accessible. Education in prison helps to reintegrate prisoners into society as they are given chances to develop their skills and gain employment. However, access to education is impeded by several factors such as barriers in accessing technological tools. For example, prisoners in Victoria are not given access to the internet, thus reducing their opportunities in education and development. Additionally, there is still a lack of digital access for prisoners in Aotearoa, despite educational institutions transitioning to online course offerings. Although the Conference discussed access to shared computers and technology in general, the use of tablets in cells can also pose similar value. 

Victoria’s maximum security prison for mentally unwell offenders, the Thomas Embling Hospital (Forensic Care), demonstrates some positive benefits arising from remote education. As classes moved online in April 2020 due to COVID-19, VET and academic subjects across many areas including business, horticulture, visual arts and hospitality are provided online to prisoners. This program has given the opportunity for detainees to gain digital literacy skills and is empowering them to ultimately reintegrate with society. Corrections Victoria has limited access to certain platforms such as YouTube, and instead relies on Kaltura. This system provides five courses that provide certificates in General Education for Adults, Foundational Skills, Business, ICT, and Occupational Health and Safety, with the potential for these options to expand in the future. The Conference noted that it is sustainable, cost-effective, and likely to be a prominent feature of Corrections education delivery in the next 5 to 10 years. This is incredibly empowering for prisoners to take charge of their future, develop skills and prepare to reintegrate with society.

The Conference discussed several initiatives that promote prison education and training through the use of technology. For example, Corrections Victoria aims to develop the use of a Learning Management System (LMS) to provide more security, flexibility and reliability in delivering course content. This thereby provides prisoners with stronger and more consistent access to education as it can be utilised remotely. Another example is that of a prison in the South Island of New Zealand, where prisoners are engaged in education through the use of virtual reality to emulate working with cars. Through the use of these technologies, prisoners are able to upskill in multiple areas including mechanics and workplace safety. 

The Conference also highlighted general shortcomings to the current use of technology within prisons to deliver education. Firstly, there is a greater need to incorporate lived experience in education in prisons. A traditional classroom setting isn’t sufficient and changes need to be made to accommodate the way prisoners want to learn in order to give them the greatest chance of success. Computers or tablets in cells may provide a solution to this issue. Secondly, although the technology currently exists, it isn’t being utilised to its full potential in prisons. Education officers have been employed to do part of the role in educating prisoners, however the introduction of tablets will allow greater self-sufficiency of inmates. Empowering inmates to be responsible for their education is key to delivering these programs efficiently and effectively. Another issue that the Conference featured was limited resources, such as shared computers and staff. However, placing computers in each cell would be able to address this and would be instrumental in ensuring widespread and equal access to education. The Conference additionally highlighted the ability of access to digital technology in promoting the education and training of prisoners, which will provide them with a way to reintegrate into society upon release.