Prisons Stretch to iPads Inside

Prison arts charity Stretch Digital has been awarded a contract to bring its digital storytelling workshops into more prisons, allowing inmates to use iPads to produce autobiographical films.

Stretch works by helping prisoners, ex-prisoners and other marginalised groups to tell their own stories through film and photography. As an ex-prisoner herself, founder and director Carlotta (below) says her mission is to help prisoners use culture and the arts as catalysts for personal change.

Using digital storytelling with prison groups is a fantastic way to bring together a lot of arts activity, confidence and learning,” she says. “The digital storytelling process is very empowering, and is a chance for usually unheard voices to have a platform to be heard.”

Based on proposals in the paper – Through the Gateway; How Computers Can Transform Rehabilitation, which was co-authored by Prisoners’ Education Trust – Stretch has built a programme of work that aims to close the ‘digital divide’ between prisons and the outside world, and support the use of IT and creative media in rehabilitation and well-being, as well as in education. Owing to the success of its work so-far, Stretch was recently awarded a Big Lottery grant for a three-year roll out of its programme.

Sodexo prisons have been particularly supportive of Stretch’s work, says Carlotta, with staff at HMP Peterborough allowing Stretch to pilot some digital literacy programmes and art programmes in the prison.

“I can’t thank the staff at Sodexo enough for taking a chance on a ground-breaking piece of work,” says Carlotta. "It is almost impossible to take iPads and recording equipment into most prison environments but I really believe Sodexo has taken the chance to pull away from other prison provision and move with the times – I sincerely hope the wider criminal justice system will see the worth of the work we are doing. With such a political emphasis on prison reform there is a real opportunity to try innovative programmes for rehabilitation.”

HMP Peterborough and Sodexo were referees on Carlotta’s successful application for a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust grant, through which she is researching technology for wellbeing prisons in Australia and Norway.

Wayne Peters, Sodexo’s head of Learning, Skills and Employment says:

“Stretch Digital will help offenders to stop reoffending by giving them a purpose or target on leaving prison, and this will also help create safer communities. The work will provide jobs or training prospects for those that most of society has given up on.

“Sodexo is interested in using new technology in prisons and has invested heavily in in-cell technology and cutting-edge equipment and we are open to ideas to use the technology to its best advantage. Carlotta has already brought new enthusiasm and knowledge and we will be very interested in the results of her research on technology for well-being and recovery, with a view to maybe piloting the ideas in our prisons. Further investment in Stretch Digital means she will be able to take the project to a bigger audience and support more ex-offenders.”

Stretch held a digital showcase at a West London art gallery on the 22nd March, aiming to raise awareness of the issues facing by its beneficiaries and the power of digital storytelling as a medium. Ex-prisoner practitioners showed recent work they made with groups in and out of prison.

The voice of the prisoner telling their story is very powerful and Stretch is looking for more criminal justice groups to work with. PET, for example, plans to work with Stretch in helping our former learners to tell their stories. If you are interested in the work done by Stretch contact Operations Manager Jess@stretch-charity.org and visit www.stretch-charity.org for more information.

Read Carlotta Allum’s blog from her travels: https://stretchdigitalontour.wordpress.com