Let me tell you, dear reader, about the importance of education for those who find themselves behind bars. The Club informatique pénitentiaire, or CLIP, has been working its magic in French prisons since 1985. 250 volunteers running computer workshops for 2,000 inmates in 60 different correctional facilities, from detention centers to maximum security prisons. And all of it happening inside the walls, where access to the World Wide Web is about as likely as a snowstorm in July.

Now, you might be wondering, what’s the point of all this? Well, let me tell you, the needs of those in prison change with the times, and the impact of the CLIP’s workshops on their ability to reintegrate into society depends greatly on the areas of study.

In the 2010s, the CLIP began searching for ways to educate inmates on computer use. And what did they come up with, you ask? A simulated internet, of course! Deployed in a handful of facilities, it allowed inmates to get a handle on email and basic web browsing. A few years later, as the need for information on all sorts of topics grew, the CLIP discovered the beauty of Wikipedia. In 2018, Wikipedia (or Kiwix, to be specific) made it onto the list of software used in the agreement between the CLIP and the prison administration.

Which content made its way in, and what for?

Fast forward to today, and Wikipedia can be found in the majority of facilities where the CLIP works its magic. And it’s not just Wikipedia, mind you. There’s also the Wiktionary, the Gutenberg library, and Bouquineux. In some cases, even foreign versions of Wikipedia and the coder’s holy grail, Stack-overflow, are available.

The primary use of Wikipedia is for research, but it also allows inmates to develop initiative, curiosity, and critical thinking. Not to mention, it opens the door to higher education opportunities that would otherwise be constrained by the availability of books. Kiwix and all the other available sources are vital components of off-line learning tools, as long as on-line access remains behind bars.

In short, education is key in helping those who’ve been incarcerated reintegrate into society. The CLIP plays a vital role in providing inmates with computer workshops and access to a wealth of information. So, next time you hear someone say prison is just about punishment, you can set them straight.