Social Media Surgeries in prison?

At the National Digital Inclusion conference I noticed a few tweets from attendees about people in prison using the internet.  I wasn’t actually in the conference hall at the time, so I’m not sure why this conversation started or what the original discussion was.  It just sent me slightly off on one in my head.

I’m a massive fan of Radio 4 and I remember hearing a documentary ages ago about prisoners who were given tape recorders so they could tape themselves reading bedtime stories to the children they’d been separated from.  It was a lovely project – it improved the prisoners’ literacy and helped them to continue their relationship with their loved ones whilst they were inside.

So it got me to thinking – is there no way they could be allowed to use some social media/networking tools to help with the same ends?  I voiced this to Nick Booth, who’s had some experience working with prisons and he told me that prison-based projects should fulfill these aims:

  • Increase future employability by giving prisoners skills they can use in the workplace.
  • Reduce prisoners’ inclination to reoffend by reinforcing their connections with the outside world, such as their families.

Both of which social media could help with.  Of course there are obvious obstacles, the chief one being how to retain an element of control over prisoners’ use so they don’t abuse it.

I’m sure a lot of people can think of a lot of reasons against this idea and probably think I’m bonkers for so much as suggesting it.  But for me, social media is largely about connecting people.  Which is the one thing a prisoner can’t do.  So if these tools could somehow be used to help them sustain their relationships with loved ones, which means they’ll have a support network when released, and teach them a skillset that could attract employers, it might be worth thinking about how the obvious obstacles could be overcome.



  1. Dave Harte said

    There’s a long tradition of using media in prison, in particular radio. Innovative uses of digital media in this context would take some thinking through but would definitely support the aims Nick has highlighted above.

    Found a nice example of a UK prisoner who blogged about his time in a US prison and from as far back as 1992 I give you ‘The Prison Project’ – “The project evolved over a three-year period and utilised the power of telecommunications to allow students and inmates to overcome the boundaries of distance and time as well as the physical boundary of prison walls.”

  2. Just came across this post. We’re doing some work with a midlands youth offending team which link into probation and prison. As we explore the technology for progression, we’re always faced with the usual barriers – barriers of the like that crop up in Tim Davies’ top 50. Maybe this could be starting point for engaging with the prison services?

  3. admin said

    Maybe! 🙂
    Sounds like it’s fantastic work you’re doing. How is it going and how are you working your way around those obstacles?
    Cheers, Nicky.

  4. Still early days really. As the sessions aren’t enforced as such, probably the biggest problem is retention. The client group is notoriously difficult to sustain engagement with but we’ve found the tools we use and crucially, how we engage with the young people, is starting to provide a good basis for progression. I think we’re going to keep the engagement session going. Keep the emphasis on comfortable, easy atmosphere, no commitments and then offer something more formal but using the same tools. Like trying to show them that they can achieve stuff doing the things they’re comfortable, and in some cases, enjoy doing.
    I think we need to address some of the institutional issues too and that’s something i’m working on at present!

  5. Simon Whitehouse said

    I don’t think you’re bonkers. My Tweets were a little bit tongue in cheek, but were also really related to closed prisons where mobile phones are banned and prisoners’ access to the outside world is confined to public telephones, with a “white list” of numbers which they are allowed to call, and visiting.

    Also, local prisons, such as Birmingham, quite simply don’t have an ICT infrastructure to support prisoners having access to the Internet. But, I’m guessing that when you get to the open prison estate then that might be different. There, and Youth Offenders Institutes, could be a good place to start.

    Your point about maintaining external support networks is a valid one, but I also wonder how we could exploit the greater sense of community that we know social networking helps to engender within a prison. If a prisoner thinks of their cell as their home and their landing or wing as their community then they will have a better chance of adjusting when they are released. Anything which creates a greater sense of community inside could also be of interest to people from the Safer Custody Group, as well as Education.

    And, as Dave says, there has been a lot of work with media in prisons over the years. HMP Brum has a radio station running at the moment. Crikey, Feltham even managed its own Hip H-Opera a few years back. There’s a lot of creativity inside waiting to be expressed.

  6. […] Caine (who began as patients set up a blog then became surgeons).  Abby Corfan, Joanna Geary and Nicky Getgood have helped alongside Julia Gilbert (also a passionate organisation helper), Anthony Herron (I […]

  7. […] Caine (who began as patients, set up a blog then became surgeons).  Abby Corfan, Joanna Geary and Nicky Getgood have helped alongside Julia Gilbert (also a passionate organisational helper), Anthony Herron (I […]

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