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How can technology support prison-leavers? Switchback speaks at MoJ’s Prison Leavers Innovation Roundtable

By May 5, 2021No Comments

On April 29 Switchback’s Head of Delivery Monique Williams spoke at a Prison Leaver Technology Roundtable, hosted by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in partnership with GovTech agency PUBLIC. The panel was organised as part of the government’s Prison Leavers Innovation Challenge – a competition for companies to develop innovative solutions to help reduce reoffending.

The event was opened by the Minister for Prisons and Probation, Alex Chalk, who spoke about the importance of a holistic approach to crime reduction and improving outcomes for prison-leavers. Monique was also joined by representatives of HMPPS and techUK.

From virtual courts to online prison visits, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that technology has the potential to transform the justice system. However, as Monique noted, rather than replacing vital in-person relationships, it should serve to enable them.

“Tech shouldn’t be about replacement [of relationships], but helping people to work together better, and freeing up staff to do their job better.”

Monique also explained that lack of access to technology such as smartphones, or the skills to use it, often holds prison-leavers back – in 2020, 20% of Switchback Trainees were released without a phone. The panel also discussed data security and low levels of literacy in prison, which must be taken into account when designing tech solutions. Finally, Monique emphasised the importance of consulting people leaving prison about the technology they need.

The Prison Leavers Innovation Challenge is part of the government’s £20m Prison Leavers Project, announced by the Ministry of Justice earlier this year, which aims to test new ways to improve the social inclusion of people leaving prison. As experts in this field, Switchback has been working with the government to shape the Prison Leavers Project since its inception, and we continue to feed in our frontline expertise as members of the MoJ’s Strategic Steering Group.

Earlier this month, representatives of PUBLIC and the MoJ joined a meeting of Switchback’s Experts by Experience (EBE) board to hear about the key challenges faced by prison-leavers where new technologies could help. Here are some quotes from EBE members in that meeting:

Ali, 25, said:

When you leave, you could be helped with learning about how to best utilise the technology that’s already there… I only realised about two, three weeks ago how easy it was to apply for jobs online. If I knew that before, it might have been easier for me. There could also be an app where you could upload your details and have somewhere to apply for things all in one place.

Nikaiho, 29, said:

I was lucky to have my phone but obviously, it’s been two and a half years, so it was flat. It would have been useful to be able to charge it for a bit before I left the prison, so I could call up different people or find the locations of places I needed to go… I had to go to a friend’s house to charge my phone and contact probation to tell them I’m on my way. The phone was vital, basically.

Kameran, 26, said:

I think giving people a basic smartphone on release would be a good thing. And another thing, having a centralised hub where you’ve got the Jobcentre people, housing people, different organisations… To have everything in one place so you don’t have to be rushing here then there, worrying about being on time and stuff.

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