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Former inmates struggling to reintegrate into society due to minimal experience with digital technology

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A man in a t-shirt and cap looks seriously at the camera.

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Former prisoner Anthony Smith is free but unable to navigate the modern digital world, leaving him to wonder if it would be better to return to prison.

Mr Smith was released from Risdon prison three months ago after serving five years for armed robbery.

The disruption to his digital development leads him to struggle to reintegrate into society.

“There is no digital experience in Risdon Prison,” he said.

“We missed five years of technology, and technology has come a long way in five years.”

Mr Smith said it affected everything from setting up a MyGov account to using a smartphone or paying for parking.

“Some days I just wish I could go back…to jail and everything would be a lot easier,” he said.

“It makes me feel belittled, that’s how it makes me feel. It makes me feel unworthy…it’s like mental torture.”

Mr Smith said his lack of digital understanding made it difficult to get a job and secure accommodation.

“I went from stacking shelves at Woolworths to picking up rubbish,” he said.

“I’ve looked at loads of jobs and most people want you to apply online. Why can’t you just drop in a resume instead of doing it online? It’s really, really hard.”

Mr Smith wants to see more funding and resources to equip people with the digital skills they need to navigate modern society.

“We have choices and we make them, but if they supported us more, we wouldn’t do it again,” he said.

“We wouldn’t go back to prison, some of us would get out and have a good chance at a normal life.

“We just got out of jail and were released straight out onto the streets, nowhere to live, that’s the way, that’s how it’s always going to be I think.”

Interior walkway of Risdon Prison with an unidentified inmate.
Inmates are spending more time locked in their cells due to understaffing, which limits access to programs.(David Fraser)

“Give them more support”

Ian Wilkinson is a case manager for the Salvation Army’s Beyond the Wire program and helps inmates reintegrate into society.

He said the fracture could be “quite deep”, with some people coming to see him having never used a mobile phone before.

Wilkinson said in the 21 TasTAFE-run courses offered in state prisons, there were opportunities to develop basic computer skills and digital skills.

But he said the majority of classes were concentrated at Ron Barwick, a minimum-security prison, and Mary Hutchinson.

“The idea would be max or average if they show good compliance, good behavior, as you go through your prison sentence you go up the road to Ron Barwick, then you can access the education process,” he said.

“So people may not have access to it while they are serving their sentence.”

Mr Wilkinson said the problem was compounded by inmates spending more time locked in their cells due to understaffing, which limited access to programmes.

He said many inmates had suffered brain damage, poor mental health, drug and alcohol addiction and low education, and because the programs were run on a voluntary basis, shame could prevent them from participating.

With each inmate costing the Tasmanian taxpayer $140,000 a year, Mr Wilkinson said it was in the state’s interest to take a restorative justice approach to imprisonment.

“They are incarcerated, but give them more support and give them access to these systems so that when they get out they have the confidence to continue in society,” he said.

Mr Wilkinson said we should look to countries, like Norway, that focus on education and rehabilitation.

A complex of gray buildings behind fences
Ian Wilkinson says it is in the state’s interest to take a restorative justice approach to imprisonment.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

“They copy what is happening in society, so whatever the prisoner was taught is relevant to what is happening in society,” he said.

Mr Wilkinson said that upon release, inmates needed comprehensive services and support to build their confidence.

“You will find that they have a shame factor, that they feel that they are not worthy… they were never told that they could achieve anything in their life… so you have to tell them this, you ‘ we have to motivate them in this space,” he said.

Expand Access

In a statement, a Department of Justice spokesperson said the Tasmanian Prison Service (TPS) recognizes that digital literacy is important in helping offenders navigate a range of social services and life support services. release.

They said inmates with appropriate security classifications were allowed to use computers.

Inmates could also access apps, digital tools and resources including Moodle – a virtual learning platform, courses from the Khan Academy, an offline version of Wikipedia, legal resources and the platform offline learning tool from TasTAFE.

The spokesperson said TasTAFE had rolled out new digital skills units in lessons at Ron Barwick Prison and intended to expand the provision to Mary Hutchinson and Risdon in 2023.

“This allows inmates to learn and practice a diverse range of digital literacy skills which they can then use in their transition and reintegration after release,” the spokesperson said.

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