Is VR education an answer to the U.S. inmate problem?

Education’s new VR frontier may have massive implications for inmates—here’s why.

VR as the Next Step

I believe the next great innovation in inmate education is virtual reality (VR).

With VR, we will have the ability to virtually place the inmate into a well-outfitted training facility. They can train in a metal shop, or they can fit pipe and learn to be a plumber. More importantly, we can allow an inmate to gain societal experiences while in the mutually safe space within the facility.

The possibilities are virtually limitless. We can build industry certifications into the software so inmates can exit incarceration with the skills and experience they need to enter high-paying career and technical positions.

Of course, this type of career and technical training will not be limited to inmates. High schools will be able to offer the types of training that were previously limited to community colleges. With many high schools beginning to offer a simultaneous track towards an associate degree, the financial benefits to both the student and the district are enormous.

VR programs of this type are currently under development. The cost of the headsets varies, from cardboard headsets at under $10 to premium brands like the Oculus Rift for around $500. But even the most expensive prices pale in comparison to the cost of buying actual shop equipment, hiring instructors and outfitting and paying for a physical space. Much like flight simulators in aviation or VR instruction now in medical schools, virtual reality will soon be used to teach trades and technical careers.

The cost savings for both prisons and high schools will be significant. The opportunity cost of not embracing this new technology will be much higher.

The pathways to career for our children now in school are uncertain at best. VR technology will change that for a large percentage of our learners.

The cost of recidivism for our inmates is currently in the tens of billions. Proper career training can lower the recidivism rate from 67 percent to 13.7 percent. Figure that into a population of inmates that exceeds three million and a housing cost of $31,000 per inmate, and you can begin to see a strong financial opportunity for our communities, states and federal government.

Of course, the real payoff is millions of people who will have an opportunity to live substantive and productive lives with their children, post release. The payoff on that? Priceless.

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