Pennsylvania Corrections uses virtual reality to prepare parents for reintegration

Pennsylvania Corrections uses virtual reality to prepare parents for reintegration

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) is leveraging virtual reality technology to improve relationships between children and incarcerated parents as they prepare to reenter society.

In October 2022, the DOC announced the launch of the new pilot program with two main components: the implementation of virtual reality technology for visits between incarcerated parents and their children, and the implementation of reality technology in parenting programs to improve communication skills.

Full funding for the virtual reality initiative comes from a $680,000 grant from the US Bureau of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Programs. The grant funded the purchase of 21 Oculus headsets, which were distributed among participating institutions.


There are 11 virtual experiences that parents and children can participate in. For example, they can talk to each other from the International Space Station or color together in a 360-degree coloring book, Deb Sahd, special assistant to the DOC corrections secretary and project manager, explained.

“As I always say, apart from recidivism, it’s about creating a better life for someone,” Sahd said.

Post-visit surveys completed by participating parents will help DOC assess the effectiveness of this program, which will ultimately be evaluated by Pennsylvania State University in late 2023.

For children who wish to have a visit with their incarcerated parents, they can do so with or without going to a DOC facility; community providers Amachi Pittsburgh and Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC) in Philadelphia facilitate virtual reality tours.

These remote visits through a community provider help to avoid any negative experiences for children visiting a prison, she said.

Currently, the VR component of the parenting program is available at select Phoenix, Fayette, Frackville, and Muncy state correctional facilities.


The reintegration portion of the pilot program builds on two existing programs – InsideOut Dads and Parenting Inside Out – which aim to improve communication skills. Now participants can also practice healthy parenting skills, but in a virtual reality environment. These experiences are guided by lesson plans and managed by DOC staff.

The participating parent will wear the Oculus virtual reality headset, while staff run the program via laptop, selecting dialogue or offering tips to help them improve interactions.

This image shows some of the learning modules available from Wrap Technologies including

This image shows some of the learning modules available from Wrap Technologies, including “How to Handle Family Conflict”.

The program is based on Wrap Technologies’ virtual reality training platform, which aims to provide the skills and tools needed to prevent recidivism and improve family relationships.

TJ Kennedy, CEO of Wrap Technologies, explained that one of the benefits of practicing family interactions in a virtual reality environment is that the physical and emotional reactions closely resemble those one would see in a face-to-face interaction. face. One example he gave was having a bedtime conversation and setting boundaries in a non-confrontational way.

“The goal, really, here is good family and community reintegration,” Kennedy said.

Program participants can select different features in avatars to more closely resemble their own backgrounds and families, including different ages and genders. Kennedy said there is also a plan to incorporate more language options into storylines in the future.

The collaboration process involves the company providing the software and hardware and training DOC personnel who will work with people using virtual reality technology.

While the company offers more general societal preparation for scenarios that have been sold to other corrections departments, the work in Pennsylvania is primarily focused on family reintegration, Kennedy said.

The company is also leveraging the technology in other ways in the public safety industry, with a non-lethal detention tool and 3D virtual training scenarios.

“We’re here in 2022,” Kennedy said. “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.”

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