The Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) partnered with the Engagement Lab to use virtual reality (VR) technologies to offer inmates controlled, immersive, and game-like exposure to simulated reentry scenarios, prior to their actual release from prison. In a VR set up, sensory information is delivered through a head-mounted display that is able to track natural head movements, creating a convincing immersive experience.
The Lab partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Correction center, South Middlesex Correctional Center (SMCC) to engage a group of users and stakeholders prior to the design of the virtual reality curriculum to better understand the circumstances and experiences that lead to anxiety during reentry. SMCC and the Massachusetts DOC (Female) currently offer many reentry assistance programs, but with this project they can present reentry training that is much more memorable and representative so that inmates can anticipate experiencing any anxiety-inducing decision-making processes while within the support system of facility staff.
The objective of this project was to design a pre-release curriculum using VR technology. The design process was participatory from beginning to end, inviting inmates and those recently released to provide substantive input into the direction of the project. The curriculum was implemented with a cohort at the South Middlesex Correctional Center (SMCC) in Framingham, MA. The Lab was able to evaluate the quality of the intervention by interviewing inmates who have experienced the curriculum and members of the advisory group of recently reentered citizens.