A new early-release program in Colorado helps prisoners convicted as teenagers adjust to the world they missed 20-plus years ago.
Since 2005, the United States Supreme Court has battled tirelessly to reduce the brutal mandatory sentences of minors by courts and as a result the sentencing of life without parole for juveniles was made unconstitutional in 2012. And while this does make a massive difference for the troubled teenagers of today, it doesn’t much help the unfortunate prisoners serving time for crimes they committed while still in High School.
Thankfully, things are beginning to look up for these forgotten “lost boys” of sorts thanks to a new early-release program in Colorado designed to rehabilitate those convicted as juveniles. The three year program encompasses a variety of beneficial training and invaluable mentorship, but the most popular aspect by far, at least for the first six inmates enrolled, has been the interactive VR element developed by NSENA CEO Ethan Moeller.
By introducing inmates to VR technology, Moeller and Colorado correctional facilities hope to expose inmates to the significant changes made in society over the past 20 years, as well as the new technology being developed. Prisoners are first given Samsung Gear VR headsets to enjoy a selection of spectator experiences such as running with wild elephants and sitting in the cockpit of a Blue Angel fighter jet. They’re also exposed to more informative experiences such as dealing with conflict and handling self-checkout at the grocery store.
After being eased into the immersive technology with casual 360-videos, the selected convicts are then given access to more interactive applications via an HTC Vive. Moeller has designed an eclectic catalogue of instructional VR applications that educate users in everything from bagging groceries and using a debit card, to doing laundry and de escalating potentially violent confrontations. The idea is to prepare these soon-to-be released prisoners with the necessary life skills they missed while incarcerated as teenagers.
While using these custom VR applications to prepare early-release prisoners for life outside, I can’t help but imagine the immense amount of good VR could serve in correctional facilities for all convicts across all facilities. Statistics have shown that specialized outreach programs have done wonders in the re education and rehabilitation of prisoners. Assigning cats for prisoners to care for, in-prison education programs, drug-abuse counseling, etc. VR could be the next big step in ensuring those who exit the prison system do so in a healthy state-of-mind.
Image Credit: VICE