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Helping prison leavers cross the digital divide
Nine different digital innovations to help prison leavers.

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New tools and solutions

Yesterday (6 November 2021) marked the latest stage in the Ministry of Justice’s Prison Leavers Innovation Challenge. The nine suppliers who were successful in the first stage of the project (see full list and summary of their digital solutions here) had had eight weeks and up to £25,000 funding to develop a prototype of their solution to the commons problems facing prison leavers.

You can see a graphic of the four main issues which competitors were asked to address below.

Yesterday, PUBLIC, the organisation running the competition on behalf of the MOJ, held a Pitch Day where the nine organisations (many of them partnerships) presented their models to an audience of over 100 interested parties before engaging in Question & Answer and networking sessions.

The second phase of the competition will involve up to four of these companies receiving Government funding of up to £350,000, as well as mentorship support, to develop their solution and design a pilot which will run for a one year period before being evaluated by the MoJ.

Informed by lived experience

The range and technical expertise of the different offers was, as you would expect from such a high profile and well-funded initiative, impressive. I was also impressed by the fact that all the offers appeared to have very significant input from people with lived experience of prison themselves.

Some of the common issues identified by prison leavers themselves included:

  • A lack of structure on release
  • Support not easily available
  • Little trust in the criminal justice system
  • Having little say in their own resettlement
  • Leaving prison being a very stressful experience with lots of  important practical problems to solve which made it hard to find the time and energy to tackle underlying issues such as mental health and or substance use problems.


Many providers had tried to address these issues by providing easy to use digital tools which prioritised making it easy for people to access local services.

Crossing the digital divide

There was a lengthy discussion about whether prison leavers had easy access to digital resources in order to be able to make use of the solutions being delivered. While there is some evidence to suggest some people who do not have a phone or who regularly run out of credit to access data, many more now seem to have consistent access. One participant highlighted a study suggesting that during COVID approximately 80% to 90% of people leaving prison had access to a smartphone. However different studies appear to have produced different estimates with this higher figure consistent with research being undertaken when prison leavers have been in the community for at least seven days. In other words, many people who leave prison without a phone are soon able to acquire one.

Key challenges

Although the range of approaches was very varied, it appeared that providers were aware of a number of key challenges which they were tackling in different ways:

  • To bridge the prison and community divide and ensure that prison leavers had many of the digital resources (ID, key appointments, knowledge of local helping services, access to key health documents) prior to release.
  • To combine face-to-face human support with digital advice and mentoring.
  • To safeguard individual prison leavers’ control over their own data while at the same time encouraging them to make information available to appropriate helping services.
  • To engage, incentivise and reward prison leavers so that they took advantage of the digital services on offer to them.
  • To extend the digital support on offer so that it included families and friends and other people supporting the individual prison leaver. 

Next steps

In the coming weeks, the MoJ will decide which of these competitors (up to four) will receive full funding and the opportunity to pilot their solutions over a period of 12-18 months. 

You can keep up to date with the Prison Leavers Innovation Challenge here.



Thanks to Meghan Schiereck for kind permission to use the header image in this post which was previously published on Unsplash.

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Innovation posts sponsored by Socrates 360

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Socrates Software is  working with Probation Services, Prison Services and some of the UK’s premierprivate companies bringing innovation and life-changing improvements to the sector by providing a “mobile mentor” via tablets and smartphones for Prisons and the Transforming Rehabilitation Programme.


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