HMPPS – A new app to boost prison leavers’ literacy is the latest part of a £20 million government plan to reduce reoffending through innovation.
It will be trialled with 300 offenders in Kent, Surrey and Sussex, starting this month, encouraging them to improve their reading skills and turn their backs on crime.
Prisoners who engage in education behind bars are 9 percentage points less likely to reoffend, but with more than half of them having the reading ability of a primary school child they can continue to struggle after release.
The app gives offenders who have left the prison gates the ability to improve their literacy with additional help from trained mentors – filling a skills gap and boosting their chances of getting a job.
Prisons and Probation Minister, Damian Hinds MP, said:
“Literacy is the key to so many routes away from crime and we know that prisoners engaging in education are significantly less likely to reoffend. That’s why we’re investing £20 million in fantastic ideas like this literacy app, as we look at innovative ways to make our communities safer.”
The app – Turning Pages Digital – launches a year after the government challenged the tech sector to come up with new ways to keep offenders on the straight and narrow.
The £20 million Prison Leavers Project is tackling the drivers of crime – including poor educational standards, unemployment and substance misuse – to help cut the £18 billion cost of reoffending.
Turning Pages Digital is the brainchild of digital agency Yalla Cooperative and the Shannon Trust, a charity dedicated to supporting disadvantaged people to learn to read. The Trust already works in around 80 prisons and is now using the app to support offenders in the community.
Pank Sethi, a Shannon Trust board member, was a reading mentor during his time in prison for drugs-related offences. He said: “I helped a learner read his five-year-old daughter’s note saying ‘I love you daddy’ for the first time and have supported another who is now at university. It’s not just about education or getting a job, it’s about the positive impact that literacy has on an individual’s whole life and wider family – that’s why the app matters.”
The new app is based on the Shannon Trust’s ‘Turning Pages’ educational support book, which mentors use to teach offenders to read in prison. The charity also trains prisoners to become reading mentors so they can help others to progress.
Another app, My Journey, has been developed by Swansea University, tech firm Legal Innovation Lab Wales, and Welsh reducing reoffending charity Include UK.
It links offenders with community-based support services that are vital to keeping them on the straight and narrow and is being tested with 300 prison leavers from HMP Swansea and HMP Parc.
Both pilots are part of the government’s Prison Leavers Innovation Challenge, a £1.45 million fund aimed at developing tech solutions to reduce reoffending which is part of the wider Prison Leavers Project.
The government is also investing £550 million over the next 3 years to reduce reoffending by getting offenders off drugs and into training, work and stable accommodation.