Virtual Reality to Impact the Prison Market

Popular in the video game world, virtual reality (VR) technology has become a household item. Last year, TrendForce predicted that VR device sales would reach approximately 14 million units by the end of this year and reach more than 38 million units by 2020. Now, it is making its way into the prison market to shed a light on social justice issues and could even create opportunities for those behind bars. Meg Bower, Correctional News contributor and senior consultant at Fairfax, Va.-based Dewberry, also shared interesting insights on the matter in a previous issue of Correctional News.

Project Empathy claims to be the “first virtual reality series for social impact,” according to Business Insider. The series’ pilot films take place in the U.S. prison system and create first-person experiences that offer viewers an immersive 3D, 360-degree experience that tell the true stories of four individuals affected by American incarceration. One such film, called The Letter, highlights the life of Shaka Senghor who spent 19 years in prison, seven of which he spent in solitary confinement. Another one, called Left Behind, follows a nine-year-old girl who ends up in a foster home after her mom is incarcerated for a first-time offense.

While Project Empathy helps facilitate the discussion of prison reform through VR technology, others are considering how the technology could be used to help inmates who are currently part of the system. Even though there are no VR technologies in place yet in prisons, The Huffington Post recently highlighted how VR could be used to help deliver much-needed skills, education and rehabilitation in jails and prisons.

Immersive VR experiences could help inmates learn what life is like on the outside, especially with regard to career training and replicating real-life scenarios that could help them learn the risks of working on a construction site without actually physically being in harm’s way, for example. The technology could also help inmates create individualized learning plans by going on virtual field trips to museums and even other countries. It could be extremely beneficial to learners who have language barriers or need additional help by reviewing or repeating necessary information as well.

Beyond the typical training and education capabilities, VR has also been used to address mental health issues, according to The Huffington Post. It can help in delivering cognitive behavioral therapy to inmates with PTSD, while also helping reduce stress, anxiety and other phobias. As VR continues to become more mainstream, it may soon become an effective tool in educating and rehabilitating inmates, which could lead to a reduction in recidivism.

By Jessie Fetterling