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Launch of a Public Acceptability Survey on the Prisoners’ Access to Digital Technology

Researchers at De Montfort University in the UK (Knight and Hadlington) have recently launched a survey to capture the public’s attitudes towards prisoners’ access to digital technology in prison. This research is the first of its kind and will provide valuable analysis about how the public feels about prisoners using technology during their prison sentences. Knight and Hadlington have designed an attitude scale to capture a number of views on security, reducing reoffending and improving resettlement, relationships, skills and employment, cost and also implementation of digital technology. The analysis of this survey will then inform a number of focus groups with the public to further explore their views on digital provision. It is then intended that the findings will help shape a prison staff acceptability survey. One of the key variables included in the study is the concept of Digital Literacy. Digital Literacy has been conceptualized as the level of skill and knowledge the individual has related to the digital environment (Calvani, Cartelli, Fini, & Ranieri, 2008). It is proposed that those with a better and broader understanding of digital technology may be those best to assess the benefits of such with in secure environments such as prisons. The focus in this instance will be the exploration of specific Internet Skills which are seen as being a core component of Digital Literacy (Van Deursen, Helsper, & Eynon, 2015)

Small pockets of digitization are evolving with some services for some prisoners becoming established (Knight 2015). However these developments remain small and localized. Molleman and van Os (2016) recent survey outlines there are significant digital disparities across most jurisdictions. They found that most areas use technology for information management systems however prisoners use of technology is still very restricted to those countries in developed areas. The use of technology for learning and some self services are being employed as well as video visitation. Development is slow and the penal digital revolution is slowly unfolding unevenly. The reasons for these disparities are complex- the mix of technological development and the management of corrections presents a number of challenges for prison managers and policy makers. These challenges are also deeply rooted in organizational reputation and services worry about how initiatives, interventions and their investments are perceived by the public. Many jurisdictions are experiencing swelling populations with a range of complex vulnerabilities. In an era of austerity, plans to invest in digitization are perceived to be contentious and sensitive.

There is a long history of prisons responding cautiously to development, particularly in relation to digital and communications technologies. Mechanisms like the separate and silent system and strict controls to limit prisoners access to mediated technologies like print media, radio and television represent emotive organizational responses to prisoners’ communicative rights. Access across many jurisdictions was and still is privileged and is not neutral. As Narey, previously head of the Prison Service in England and Wales describes:

When I joined the prison service in 1982 people were terrified of allowing prisoners to have FM radios… ‘ (Narey 2015)

Our challenge then, is to assess and for the first time formally document these kinds of responses. Results of this public acceptability survey will emerge during 2017.


Calvani, A., Cartelli, A., Fini, A., & Ranieri, M. (2008). Models and Instrumentsfor Assessing Digital Competence at School. Journal of E-Learning and Knowledge Society, 4(3), 183–193.

Kjær Minke, L.; Schinkel, M.; Beijersbergen; K.; Damboeanu, C; Dirga, L.; Dirkzwager, A.; Jewkes, Y.; Moran, D.; Knight, V.; Palmen, H.; Pricopie; V.; Tartarini, F.; Tomczak, P.; JTurner, J.; Vanhouche,A.; Wahidin, A. Multiple perspectives on imprisonment in Europe (forthcoming)

Knight, V. (2015) Some Observations on the Digital Landscape of Prisons Today Prison Service Journal July 2015 No 220 pp 3-9

Molleman, T. & van Os, R. (2016) Technological Disparity Across Prison Services ICPA & Europris Report

The Independent (2015)  Prisoners given in-cell phones and screens (accessed 24.5.16)

Van Deursen, A. J. A. M., Helsper, E. J., & Eynon, R. (2015). Development and validation of the Internet Skills Scale (ISS). Information, Communication & Society, 4462(August), 1–20.

Author: Dr Victoria Knight & Dr Lee Hadlington