In Part I of this Q&A, Correctional News spoke with Virtual Rehab Founder and CEO Dr. Raji Wahidy about his company that aims to reduce the number of repeated offenses and re-incarceration rates through virtual reality (VR) rehabilitation programs. VR refers to a computer-generated, 3-D image or environment that can be interacted with in real-time using input devices such as headsets, and Virtual Rehab uses the technology to focus on education, training and rehabilitation in correctional facilities.
Q: What are the key benefits for inmates using Virtual Rehab?
Wahidy: Key benefits include:
- Enhancing inmates’ formal education — according to the U.S. Department of Justice, majority of inmates are educated at less than a sixth-grade reading level — to allow them to be released with higher qualifications. Formal education can be conducted through individualized learning plans where inmates can also learn at their own paces.
- Vocational job training that will further assist them in development from a professional perspective.
- Leverage advancement in technology for psychiatric rehab (cognitive behavioral therapy, reduction of stress, anxiety and phobias) rather than sitting down with a psychiatrist and feeling obligated to share things that they may not wish to share (an intimidating process).
- Opportunity to experience real-life scenarios and have their actions and reactions be evaluated in a more environmentally friendly manner.
- Less focus on punishment and more focus on learning.
Q: What are the key benefits for prison operations employees making Virtual Rehab available to inmates?
Wahidy: Notable key benefits include:
- Cost savings — no need to send inmates from one facility to another for certain training or particular rehab programs, and no need for one-on-one psychiatrist sessions, etc.
- The consolidation of efforts into one space (room) rather than being engaged in multiple activities across different locations and at different timings (making the schedule easier to manage).
- A lower number of altercations among inmates. When inmates are in a better state-of-mind, then their behavior will consequently improve dramatically.
- Lowering the stress level of prison operations employees due to the lower number of inmates problems.
- Improved relationship among prison operations employees and inmates (due to soft skills education provided through the VR educational curriculum).
Q: What is your argument for those who see VR as a form of entertainment, not appropriate in prisons?
Wahidy: Although virtual reality has been predominantly known as a form of entertainment thus far, it has also proven its success in the medical industry, where it has been leveraged, as early as 1994, to overcome cases of acrophobia, PTSD, along with the treatment of mental health issues. Virtual Rehab is building upon these successes and advancements in technology in order to educate, train and address various offenses to rehabilitate inmates so as to prepare them to integrate, upon their release, within their society. Virtual Rehab aims to give this very important population, who is in dire need of our help, a second chance at life, and allows them to become a contributing part of our community, rather than labeling them as offenders or bad people for the rest of their lives.
Q: When do you think Virtual Rehab will be fully ready to implement in prisons, and do you already have prisons interested in using it?
Wahidy: The product roadmap has us officially launching the tool in June 2017. However, we are working very hard to beat that deadline and launch earlier. We are currently scheduling meetings with federal and state authorities within the Department of Corrections in order to share with them our vision and to receive feedback as to how we can further enhance our product offering accordingly. So far, we have received excellent feedback and there has been a lot of interest around what we are doing and some authorities have even voiced their interest to see a demo, once available.