Virtual Reality

Virtual reality brings prisoners and their families closer together

Virtual reality brings prisoners and their families closer together

Image: GovTech

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The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Virtual Reality Testing Program is designed to help inmates get started and also improve communication with their children.

The return to a normal life is a challenge for the detainees. It is difficult for incarcerated parents to reconnect with their children after their incarceration, for example. They only see their children during brief visits to the prison visiting rooms while they are incarcerated.

Visiting an incarcerated parent is also stressful for children. According to a Sam Houston State University study on the effects of prison visits on children, 65% of participating children showed negative reactions to prison visits, including anxiety, depressive symptoms, and anger.

Virtual reality for inmates can create closeness from a distance

Instead of exposing children to the oppressive atmosphere of a prison, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) is trying a different approach. Thanks to a $680,000 grant from the US Office of Juvenile Justice, 21 Meta Quest 2 headsets were purchased and 11 VR experiences were developed to enable contact between imprisoned parents and their children in virtual reality.

For example, participants can talk to each other while exploring the International Space Station together. The appearance of VR avatars can be customized to make the experience more realistic and personal.

Organizations like Amachi Pittsburgh and the Public Health Management Corporation in Philadelphia help children by answering questions about the program or the criminal justice system. Staff monitor visits via laptops and help parents start a dialogue.


Deb Sahd of the Department of Corrections explains that such visits from afar mitigate negative experiences for children. The program is not intended to completely replace real-life visits – after all, children need to be able to see their parents in real life.

Using VR to facilitate re-entry into daily life

VR training has also proven itself time and time again in the social field, for example in the reintegration of unemployed young people or in deal with aggression.

In addition to communication training, the Department of Corrections program also offers virtual reality experiences that show inmates how to shop, use a cell phone or clean an apartment. Similar virtual reality programs existed in the United States several years ago.

The DOC uses the VR Wrap Technologies training platform for this purpose. “The goal, really, here is good family and community reintegration,” says CEO TJ Kennedy. Working with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, he sees societal value in virtual reality. “And I think for reintegration into society, corrections and law enforcement, we’re in a really important place where there are investments that can be leveraged to use new technologies.”

Sources: GovTech, Daily Science

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