Revolutionising prisoner education

Progression Statement - May 2019

Executive Summary

Since Dame Sally Coates’ report in 2016, reducing reoffending has become a priority goal for the UK government: improved training and education is a core part of the strategy.

Government research published July 2018 confirms that prisoners who spend time studying through distance learning are significantly more successful in securing work after release. However,

  • Due to security considerations prisoners are forbidden from accessing the internet and from owning digital devices such as phones, laptops or tablets
  • There is currently no provision for digital learning in-cell.
  • Where there is digital learning (eg, in a prison library) it is strictly supervised and conducted in communal training areas with very limited availability, access and capacity

By giving prisoners access to digital learning methods, Coracle Inside has the potential to revolutionise prison education which should, in turn, reduce reoffending rates.

Coracle Inside is an innovative Digital Learning Platform (DLP) embodying a prison specific Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to enable in-cell learning.

The system has been developed with significant Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) input and in close collaboration with the Learning Together consortium led by the University of Cambridge. Coracle Inside has been successfully trialled at HMPs Whitemoor, Warren Hill and Grendon, with all stakeholders, including prison governors, content providers and students giving very positive feedback. The system has passed MoJ cyber security penetration tests.

Prisoners are issued with totally locked down laptop devices that, through a proven, patent pending “Coracle Inside Hub”, can then be securely synced to a cloud-based server. This allows learning materials and courses to be updated, outcomes to be monitored, work to be assessed and accredited whilst ensuring 100% secure separation of prisoners from the internet when they use the devices.

In addition, Coracle has developed a unique ex-offender targeted job board which enables potential employers to advertise vacancies suitable for ex-offenders and to improve the chances of prisoners gaining meaningful employment upon their release.

Coracle Online Ltd has over 10 years of providing digital education to “hard to reach” learners. Coracle Inside is based on their existing VLE already used by 35,000 active users in 80 countries. In the short term the primary focus is prisoner education however Coracle has already identified other opportunities to grow the business, both within the justice system and in alternative niche markets where Coracle Inside can provide digital content for learning therapeutic and other purposes to hard-to-reach individuals with limited or no access to the internet.

Benefits

Coracle Inside allows prisoners:

  • To study in-cell whenever they want rather than only when they are granted access to a secure, supervised area
  • Access to a much broader range of course content
  • To improve their digital and IT skills in a way that has not been previously possible
  • To study more than one course at any one time
  • To continue their studies even when transferred from one prison to another
  • To continue their studies upon their release Access to job vacancies that are ex-offender suitable

Coracle Inside allows content providers (PEF and DPS) to:

  • Provide digital course content in any form including video, interactive tests and questionnaires to the prison population
  • Reduce their reliance on classroom training, which is time consuming, expensive and difficult to organise
  • Provide either totally digital courses or supplement existing classroom course with a digital component
  • Far greater access to the prison population in an inexpensive, easily accessible way

Coracle Inside allows the prison system:

  • To greatly increase the reach and provision of training inside
  • Better prepare prisoners for life after release which will reduce reoffending rates as well as both financial and resource pressures on the entire justice system

Current Status and Trial Feedback

Prison Trials

For the past two years, Coracle Inside have been conducting trials with the Criminology Department at the University of Cambridge on the ‘Learning Together' programme, working in partnership with HMPPS and HMPs Grendon, Warren Hill and Whitemoor.

  • HMP Whitemoor - Cat A - Cambridgeshire
  • HMP Grendon - Cat C - Buckinghamshire
  • HMP Warren Hill - Cat C / D - Suffolk

The trials gave students safe access to non-networked Chromebooks to support their higher education. The prison-based students took part in a range of different Learning Together courses having each been provided with an individual Chromebook, issued to their possession for the duration of their course (approx. 4 months). Through these Chromebooks, students accessed the Coracle Inside DLP. The DLP contained course materials (text, video and audio content), a library of extension learning materials, a word processor for the completion of assessments as well as course feedback and evaluation tools. University-based students accessed the same DLP through an online portal provided by Coracle, ensuring parity in the learning experience across the whole group.

Thanks to continued collaboration with HMPPS Security colleagues, and building on the 2017-18 pilot, Coracle has been able to develop the specification for the Coracle Inside Hub that enables secure printing capability and secure internet access for uploading and downloading content from Chromebook on site within establishments. This enables the devices to be turned around more efficiently and used across a wider range of courses within individual establishments.

The design and configuration of Coracle’s technology has been security tested (called ‘PEN testing’) by an independent security team, appointed by the national Cyber-Crime team within HMPPS.

Trial Feedback

All trials have been received favourably by the MOJ, Prison governors, Prisoners and Learning Together and generated no security reports. Some notable comments from course participants include:

‘Bringing real life IT into the custodial environment for the continued educational development of our learners is exceptional. Bringing or extending skills for our learners mirroring the learning of the Cambridge Uni students, has broken down barriers and made the learning environment realistic.’ (HMP Head of Learning and Skills)

‘It gives hope for the future: one can only hope that allowing a laptop in the cell will give greater and greater access to information to the prisoners’ (university-based student).

‘I cannot believe I can use a computer in my room to study’ (prison-based student).

‘A giant leap forward’ (prison educator).

Particular extracts from the report include:

"Many described the Chromebook as empowering them ‘to research and study like never before as a prisoner".

"All students described how the Chromebook and DLP had enhanced their learning. The video and audio materials were particularly welcome – bringing the subject to life, increasing the accessibility of more difficult texts, and supporting the engagement of students with a broader range of learning styles and specific learning differences (including especially dyslexia).

Many prison-based students reported never having used technology before. Others had used technology before, but many years ago . Most found the devices easy to use and clear, welcomed the ease of having all learning material in one place, without risk of things being misplaced. Many prison-based students talked to us about how having the Chromebook expressed that they were trusted by prison staff and the institution, and that their development was being taken seriously.

For some, the Chromebook were a source of positive escapism from life on the wings – a way of keeping busy and away from negative circumstances or influences on wings, and a reminder of normality and home.

For others, the challenge of learning how to use the devices prompted new conversations and connections with family members, with the mother of one of our students, for example, buying the same Chromebook as her son so that they could learn together.

These experiences boosted students’ self-worth and created a sense of hope and a sense of mutuality, respect and connectedness between prison based students and the prison staff who were involved in the pilot. Students especially welcomed the electronic library facility on the Chromebook which they could navigate independently to broaden and deepen their learning, in ways that promoted agency and autonomy.

The benefits of this were reflected in some students’ essays, which drew on extension material in the library, as well as enriched classroom discussion. Many described the Chromebook as empowering them ‘to research and study like never before as a prisoner’. Students also warmly welcomed the insight that the learning self-reflection and evaluation tools provided and the autonomy they enjoyed to choose whether to submit their self-evaluation outcomes to the broader evaluation of Learning Together, with the overwhelming majority of students opting to do so”

Coracle Inside Technology Solution

Coracle Inside is designed for learners isolated from the internet, especially those in prison, to provide parity in the learning experience as students working online.

The system enables prison based learners, from their cell, to perform skills gap analysis, to access course materials and complete course assessments, evaluation and self-reflection tasks via totally locked down devices.

Analytics data is made available to researchers in ‘SPSS ready' format to support comparative studies of learners online and offline. Prison based learners register for specific courses with the prison authorities. Once registration is approved, the prisoner is issued with a Coracle Inside enabled Chromebook, with the relevant course content preloaded. The Chromebooks are managed using Google Managed Services and run in ChromeOS Kiosk mode at all times. We enjoy full support from Google with this.

  • Provides a secure channel for content providers to access the prison estate
  • Features a unique jobs board tailored to ex-offenders
  • Is simple, scalable and can accommodate any form of digital course content
  • Has been successfully proven in Ministry of Justice approved trials at three prisons
  • Has been selected as preferred technology provider by the Learning Together consortium of 31 universities led by University of Cambridge
  • Learning Together has been specified into the PEF contract with Novus, the Prime Provider awarded the greatest number of lots and prisons
  • Empowers users to provide tailored and contextual micro-learning

Creating courses

Courses come from content providers, who upload materials via Coracle Canvas. We allow any form of digital content.

Creating courses as apps in a scalable and time sensitive manner required the creation of new processes. “Coracle App Maker” (CAM) has been recognised by HMRC for R&D tax credits due to its acknowledged technological innovation as a processing technique for the conversion of web based learning activities. CAM automates many of the processes required, including vital security checks on the content. We utilise the latest standards based web technologies to provide apps for use on ChromeOS devices.

How does the system work?

  • Prisoners register for specific courses with the prison authorities
  • When registration is approved, the prisoner is issued with a Coracle Inside enabled Chromebook, with the relevant course content preloaded
  • Course enrolment is managed by course supervisors using Coracle’s web based course enrolment / management app
  • Prisoners are issued a Section 40E authorisation letter, signed by the governor, confirming entitlement to have the equipment in their possession

Coracle Inside Hub: proprietary, patent pending technology

Core to enabling users to be logged on to the correct courses is the Coracle Inside Hub (CIH). This allows syncing of content from secure cloud servers to the devices in the prison environment. CIH has a connection via dedicated broadband to a named IP address and ensures 100% secure separation between device and internet. All syncing takes place through CIH within designated supervised areas, with CIH acting as a proxy server.

  • Enables prisoners to print out course work, assignments and research materials in a secure, supervised environment (typically in a prison training facility or library) Note: Printing is not possible without the hub due to the locked down nature of the Chromebook
  • Allows uploading and downloading (syncing) of content within the prison environment between a Cloud server and the Chromebooks
  • The Hub has a connection via dedicated broadband connection to a named IP address
  • The Hub ensures 100% secure separation between the device and the internet when the Chromebook is not connected to it
  • All syncing takes place through the Hub within designated and supervised secure areas The Hub acts as a proxy server inside the prison, enabling devices to be updated and users to be logged in via sync connection to Coracle Inside’s secure Cloud based server. This enables course content to be uploaded and refreshed
  • Full analytics of device usage are synced, including measures of time spent in use, content accessed, questionnaires, course assessments etc.