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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Give prisoners access to the web, says Lane Fox

Give prisoners access to the web, says Lane Fox

By Robert Verkaik, Home Affairs Editor

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Prisoners should be given access to the internet to help with their rehabilitation and cut crime, Martha Lane Fox has told The Independent.

Ms Lane Fox, the Government's digital champion, said a properly controlled prison web scheme could benefit thousands of the country's inmates. Speaking ahead of the annual Lord Longford Memorial Lecture, she said couldn't understand why some prisoners were being "excluded from the conversation".

She added: "Controlled internet access for prisoners can help in rehabilitation. I don't believe in cutting people out of conversations. Nine million people do not have access to the internet and 80,000 prisoners are just a subset of this group."

Ms Lane Fox, who co-founded the website, said she hoped Lord Longford would approve of her drive to move disadvantaged groups online.

"He believed in giving everybody a voice no matter how unfashionable it might seem," she said.

But she conceded she would not be pressing ministers on granting prisoners the right to use the internet, as there were other groups whose claims were more urgent. "This is not a rallying cry and I won't be campaigning on it in my official capacity – it is my personal view," she said.

As Digital Champion, Ms Lane Fox is committed to getting nine million people online by 2012. She is working with the Race Online 2012 campaign and the transformation of DirectGov, the Government's online portal for public services.

At last night's speech in London she threw down the gauntlet to charities, which she urged to do more to use internet services to engage with the people they sought to help. She also said she was surprised to learn that there were 9,000 charities working in the criminal justice sector alone – more than one for every 10 prisoners.

"Such a powerful group of charities could use the internet to work together on so many different levels to help share resources or back office functions to make them more efficient," she said.

Ms Lane Fox pointed to the example of Comic Relief, which makes it obligatory to apply for funding online. She said this showed how it was possible to save money for good causes by using the internet to cut red tape.

The same applied to Government policy, where ministers should be putting the internet "at the heart of their decision-making", she added.

"My experience of 18 months working in Government and as an observer before is that we are not very good at responding to developments in the internet.

"The web requires rapid responses but we tend to be rather risk averse in the public sector." She said Government and business could learn a lot from American companies such as Google and Apple, which had succeeded by testing their services and products through learning from their failures on the web.

The Longford Prize 2010

Circles UK (winner)

The charity was recognised for its work with sex offenders, which the judges said provided "a much greater opportunity for preventing further crime, rehabilitating the offenders, and achieving safer communities for us all".

Just for Kids Law (highly commended)

This charity was lauded for its work with children on the wrong side of the law at a young age. The judges were impressed by its "holistic approach".

Peter Kilgarriff (lifetime achievement award)

He was recognised for his impact on the prison-reform sector over many years.

Comment: A belated heads up to Charles Cowling for this story.

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