For prison inmates, the transition from the world inside prison to that outside can sometimes prove difficult, particularly for those who have been behind bars for some time. Students from the University of Illinois have designed a virtual reality (VR) program to help prisoners get used to the world outside.
The program was developed by the students working with Professor Rebecca Ginsburg and the Education Justice Project. For inmates, while they are confined, they are subject to a highly regimented life where almost all decisions are made for them, and each day is almost identical to another.
The world outside moves on, especially in the area of technology, which has moved forward at a dizzying pace. To help prisoners who are on the verge of release, students worked on VR scenarios that can help acclimatise inmates to the everyday scenarios that they might soon encounter, such as using public transport systems, ordering food from a self-serve kiosk or buying petrol from a modern petrol station.
Professor Ginsburg has done a great deal of work with the Education Justice Project as its director, and polled former inmates who were released after long sentences to find out the areas they wish they had been better prepared for. “The goal is to teach students methods and processes necessary to create innovative products that are human-centered, working collaboratively with social impact research to create a space where graphic and industrial design students can apply their skills to a real problem, with real people,” said Lisa Mercer, a graphic design professor who co-taught the class with industrial design professor William Bullock.
Using VR, users are immersed in a given scenario and provided with step-by-step instructions on how to navigate through the situation to reach their goal, whether that is buying groceries or boarding a train.