Digital Education for Corrections: Transforming Incarceration into Opportunity

By Brian Walsh

In my fifteen years spent working at the intersection of education and corrections, I’ve learned that the time individuals spend during incarceration should be time spent preparing for their successful reentry. The concept is simple, but powerful: the best way to reduce recidivism is to equip incarcerated individuals with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive once they return to their communities. This philosophy is central to my journey from a career dedicated to corrections education at the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and the Vera Institute of Justice to my current role as Director of Customer Platform, Education, and Reentry at Securus Technologies, an Aventiv company.

I have witnessed firsthand how technology serves as a powerful enabler, delivering education to incarcerated individuals. At Securus Technologies, we focus on “connecting what matters,” which means using technology to bring the potential of education to incarcerated individuals, so they have the potential to transform lives and strengthen communities. However, with this vision, it’s essential to recognize that not all correctional facilities are the same, and neither are the individuals serving sentences. When it comes to providing digital education, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t cut it. It’s not about offering 500 courses. It’s about ensuring that people complete the right courses, tailored to their needs and circumstances.

Jails and prisons serve different purposes, and as such, their approach to education must differ. Individuals often spend a relatively short time in jails. Therefore, our focus at Securus Technologies is addressing each incarcerated individuals’ immediate needs, helping them acquire essential skills quickly and effectively to help guide their reentry process. These needs may include substance abuse treatment, job-searching skills, and short-term safety training for construction or food handling. We recognize the urgency of these needs and work with Edovo, our third-party partner offering the most robust and expansive educational, vocational, and rehabilitative programming in the corrections space, to provide the breadth of their content on secure tablets, so incarcerated individuals have the freedom to choose content that is most relevant to their immediate concerns. They can access resources like basic skills training, substance use treatment programming, and reentry culinary curriculums.

On the other hand, in prisons, individuals generally have longer sentences and, therefore, more time to dedicate to their education. To meet this need, Securus Technologies provides post-secondary education, cognitive behavioral therapy, and a wealth of resources to help incarcerated individuals complete full degrees, from high school diplomas to two-year and even four-year degrees. Our investment in the Lantern Learning Management System and post-secondary education services ensures that incarcerated individuals can build skills, earn degrees, and work towards meaningful employment during their incarceration. Most recently, Securus launched a partnership with Essential Education to expand the suite of resources on Securus tablets, allowing incarcerated individuals free access to premium education and re-entry programming, including GED prep, HiSET prep, computer competency, and financial literacy, among other offerings.

These tailored approaches represent a fundamental shift in how we view education in the correctional system. It’s not enough to merely check the education box and offer a plethora of courses; the real value lies in meeting the unique needs of each incarcerated individual. By providing them with the right tools and resources, we empower them to build better lives and positively contribute to society upon release.

This approach also aligns with what research tells us about reducing recidivism. A study found that people are more likely to avoid criminal behavior when they have strong ties to family and community, meaningful employment, recognition of their worth from others, feelings of hope and self-sufficiency, and a sense of meaning and purpose. Education is a powerful means to achieve these goals, offering the knowledge and skills that lead to employment, self-worth, and a sense of purpose.

Digital education in corrections is not just about providing courses; it’s about providing opportunities for transformation regardless of the length of an individual’s sentence. The right education can be the catalyst for a brighter future and a reduced likelihood of reoffending. In partnership with correctional facilities, educators, and organizations like Edovo and Essential Education, Securus Technologies is committed to ensuring that incarcerated individuals have access to the education and resources they need to succeed, both during their time behind bars and in their lives beyond. By embracing flexible and individualized approaches, we create connections that matter, and empower those we serve by helping them build meaningful and productive futures, benefiting not only them but our communities and society as a whole.

Brian Walsh is the director of customer platform, education, and reentry at Securus Technologies. He previously served as a program manager with the nonprofit Vera Institute, as a policy associate at the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, and as Corrections Education Director for Peninsula College at two Washington State DOC facilities.