Can e-learning in prisons play a significant role in rebuilding the lives of offenders?
It is widely acknowledged that providing offenders with opportunities to enhance their skills greatly improves their chances of employment after release and therefore the likelihood of reducing re-offending. Does this apply to gaining those skills via e-learning as well?
Encompassing all forms of ‘Technology-Enhanced Learning’, including web-based, e-learning presents offenders with options not available in classroom teaching. An e-learning company states that the average reading age of their users is 12 and many have dyslexia, which causes them to fall behind. As they are too embarrassed to speak up, e-learning helps to overcome this problem as they learn independently, at a pace that suits them. It is flexible, it is available 24 hours per day; there is an element of self-control. More importantly, two skills are learned at once that can be used to continue learning and access e-services on release.
Employment, housing, family adjustment, influence of friends (ie. criminal friends), and the difficulties and loneliness of the outside world are the main barriers to ex-offenders resettling into a pro-social existence away from crime.This was highlighted by a BBC series that followed the lives of a number of female offenders in HMP Holloway. If the subjects of the programme had had structure, focus (somewhere to go and something to do) and someone who believed in them, their deliberate re-offending would not have occurred.
So, would any form of e-learning have provided this much-needed support?
The area has evolved considerably over the last 10 years, from a traditional pedagogical base to an approach of acquired learning that embraces modern social networking technology, such as Facebook, to provide a personalised experience. This can be supported by an online tutor available when required by the learner, thereby providing structure and focus, and giving the ex-offender something to strive for that fits into their sometimes very chaotic lives.
Researchers hypothesise that ‘by providing offenders with employment opportunities, housing and someone who believes in them, recidivism can be reduced.’ e-Learning, in addition to providing content with a supportive tutor, also gives learners the confidence to use technology to take advantage of digital services (e-services) now provided by government and other organisations. Indeed, even Jobcentre Plus vacancies and housing services are online, and in terms of rebuilding lives, social networking can provide the initial companionship to counteract both loneliness and the difficulties of integrating back into society.
Consider Guy Pottle, who used e-learning to turn his life around. Sent to prison in 2006 for a violent offence, Guy gained a number of qualifications that have led to an offer of employment on release. It has not been easy for Guy, but his dedication, combined with the benefits of e-learning, have enabled him to have a future outside of prison and not re-offend.
So, does e-learning have a role to play in reducing re-offending? I will leave you to come to your own conclusions
Artticle Published Originally in PS Public Service
West G (2009) ‘Unpacking Leitch: The Offender Perspective’
Pollock J M 2004 ‘Prisons and Prison Life: Costs and Consequences’, Los Angeles, Calif., Roxbury Pub.Co.
Ufi/learndirect – Strategy 2009: www.ufi.com
Ross J I & Richards C (2003) ‘Convict Criminology’, Belmont, CA, Wadsworth / Thomson Learning
Pottle G D (2009) ‘A Journey of Discovery and Achievement with me Every Step of the Way’, Every Step Limited, Colchester