In three days I will be venturing to establishments in the Netherlands on a Fellowship provided by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. In February, I will also be traveling to Belgium to continue the research.
Access to literature for an estimated 100,000 prisoners in the UK is a contentious issue. In 2014 a ban (subsequently overturned) was imposed on prisoners receiving books by post. In 2016 newspapers carried headlines such as ‘Extremist’ books remain in prisons despite warning’. In a climate of digital technology, I propose to evaluate how e-reading (used successfully in other countries), could be used by prisoners in the UK to enable them to access safe, engaging and educational literature. The project length would be 4 weeks. I would also like to focus on tablet technology within prisons as well as e-reading as I feel a lot of potential lies in the future of tablet technology.
Companies such as Jpay and Edovo have introduced tablet technology into prisons overseas to provide daily access to educational, vocational and therapeutic programming. Tablets in prisons are emerging as a new tactic to ease a prisoner’s return to society, where technology is taking on an increasing role.
The overall aim of the project is to use the Fellowship opportunity to examine the viability of incorporating tablet technology within UK prisons to complement or replace the historical use of books, identify the tangible benefits of using technology (eg. if it could be cost effective) and the impact of using it for the prisoner and the wider prisoner estate.
This project complements key government initiatives to improve digital capabilities, prison education and to offer equality of opportunity. Access to libraries within prison is part of HM Inspectorate but it is an impossible challenge to meet the needs and interests of men and women of different ages, reading ability and language. On a local level, the prison in which I work uses in-cell technology and is working on introducing tablet technology. The research gained from the Fellowship would assist the prison in enabling a successful digital format to integrate into this technology. The results would be shared with other prison establishments.
Looking at how e-reading can be developed in HMP Thameside, I have liaised with Andy Bray (Custodial Estate IT Manager of Serco Home Affairs) as part of research for a recent MSc Library Science dissertation. Andy is responsible for implementing IT technology into Serco prisons. He and his team intend to pilot tablet technology in all six Serco prisons and are assessing the possibilities available. I have spoken to Andy about this opportunity and he would welcome the research from my findings as the topic is still very ‘up and coming’ in UK prison establishments.
The research I find from the Fellowship could be shared amongst higher management and the various departments within the prison environment to assess if they can link in content with the technology. It could also be shared on forums including Good-practice.net, JISCMail (an e-mail list for prison librarians) and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) Prison Libraries group.
I am very excited at being given this Fellowship and would like to thank the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust committee for allowing me to embark on these opportunities.
I will be updating this blog on a regular basis so please check back.