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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Digital inclusion for offenders and the Third sector

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Michael Vreugdenhil of Pink Umbrella Studios on why digital inclusion is a priority for offenders and long term prisoners in particular.

Meeting two needs with one deed

This is a guest post by Michael Vreugdenhil of Pink Umbrella Studios.

Everyone’s talking about digital inclusion, but what does it really mean? Digital inclusion can be summarised as a larger goal with three main areas: digital skills, connectivity and accessibility. Being able to use computers and the internet is important. However, a lack of digital skills is not necessarily the only, or the biggest barrier people face with digital inclusion. People also need the right infrastructure to get online. Lastly, accessibility means that services should be designed to meet all users’ needs, including those dependent on assistive technology – and those behind bars. Accessibility is a barrier for many people, but digital inclusion is broader and encompasses all three obstacles; digital skills, connectivity and accessibility.

At Pink Umbrella Studios, our personal interpretation of digital inclusion is a simpler one. For us, digital inclusion means proactively taking steps towards ensuring that everyone is able to use technology, to successfully act within society and are able to accept and take new opportunities. It is basically levelling the playing field for the less-fortunate that have not been able to practice or keep up with technology before.

While digital exclusion can be difficult for people in every-day society, it is much more so in the justice system. People who have served long prison sentences can often find themselves digitally excluded; after being removed from modern technology for many years, they are simply released and expected to get on with it. For example, imagine the technology 15 years ago. Everyone carried a flip-phone or a slide-phone, wireless wasn’t really a thing and people could only dream about a button-less phone. Imagine, that with that mind-set – of 15 years ago – you are dropped in the here and now. How disturbing and overwhelming that must be. Surely for many, going back to ‘the old ways’ is the only way out.

Pink Umbrella Studios

I learnt my own coding skills inside prison and then went on to start Pink Umbrella Studios with the aim of offering others the same opportunities. We are a digital design agency that constructs creative solutions that tackle today’s social issues. Our first initiative is to offer an online presence for charities & social enterprises and ex-offender entrepreneurs at a competitive rate. This has been made possible through a collaboration with Code 4000 where offenders inside prison code part of the website. This initiative tackles two cases of digital inclusion in one manageable cycle and has a high-impact return for all involved.

Prisoners often have not had the chance to familiarise themselves with new technology before their release. This results in problems later on as they struggle with day-to-day activities and integrating back into society. Simply bringing new technology inside a prison eases this transition for the offender and reduces the chance of re-offending. Moreover, they are learning a new-age skill with a high career potential, which in turn also reduces the chances of re-offending. What makes the initiative even stronger, is that I’ve been through this exact process and thus know what it takes to come out the other side.

Pink Umbrella Studios has a second mission: to promote the digital inclusion of charities & social enterprises and ex-offender entrepreneurs. Charities and social enterprises struggle with getting an online presence due to lack of knowledge and funds, and the hurdle is simply too big. Here, accessibility is the key factor for digital exclusion. We are able to bridge this gap and make an online presence more feasible. For charities and social enterprises this means that they are now able to reach out to a larger audience, have a structured way of communicating and attracting donations and support.

The same applies to ex-offender entrepreneurs. Many struggle with obtaining employment after release; and self-employment is often the best route to becoming financially stable. But ex-offenders experience similar hurdles as charities and social enterprises in beginning their new ventures. They just don’t have the funds to get their business ideas packaged into high quality design. We recognise this barrier and specialise in providing ex-offender entrepreneurs with an online website at a competitive rate, allowing them a real chance to get their business off the ground, and ultimately strengthening digital inclusion across the board.

We are committed to digital inclusion for everyone, but particularly those with experience of the criminal justice system. Were keen to engage with others and get your opinions and thoughts on the issue:

Do you think offenders should be allowed modern day tech to communicate and prepare for their release? What are your worries and fears, or your hopes and aspirations?

Please let us know on Twitter @PinkUmbrellaSt

Or you can email us direct at [email protected] or [email protected]

Or simply visit www.pinkumbrellastudios.com to find out more.

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One Response

  1. I have just read a fantastic peace of work put together in a language everyone can easily understand. Super, keep up the great work you are doing guys.

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