VR for Reentry
VR and Foresight Training with Incarcerated Women
Institute for the Future, in partnership with the Engagement Lab at Emerson College and the Massachusetts Department of Correction, is helping to prepare women in Boston who are about to re-enter society after serving long-term prison sentences by using virtual reality and Futures Thinking tools.
In Massachusetts, one in three women who leave prison will return within three years. In a ground-breaking new effort, women in Boston will soon be able to utilize IFTF offers “VR for Reentry,” Futures Thinking tools and VR immersion in three3 future difficult scenarios the women are likely to encounter as powerful tools for incarcerated women to prepare for their future outside of prison in order to, and ultimately reduce recidivism. It is the mission of Institute for the Future’s Equitable Futures Lab to engages with public policy and works, using proven foresight methodologies to develop and prototype innovative solutions for an equitable future. So, IFTF is proud to be involved in developing a program that could change the way our nation views the corrections system and thinks about equitably supporting vulnerable members of our society.
The team of researchers and VR creators worked with women currently in state prison to co-develop three scenarios, filmed in 360º: interviewing for a job, navigating potentially triggering public spaces, and negotiating the risk of addiction and relapse. The VR format allows the women to virtually step into a stressful future that they may face once they get out—much like pre-exposure therapy. These first-person, immersive stories include external dialogue and the viewer's internal thoughts reflecting temptation, situational awareness, and possible solutions. In each scenario, the viewer has an opportunity to overcome a potentially dangerous or risky situation, and see the aftermath of the decision they've made.
“Increasing equitable opportunities for these vulnerable women to succeed as they move from prison back into their communities in Boston showcases the best of technology and research to benefit society” said Marina Gorbis, Executive Director, Institute for the Future. “The fact that there’s Virtual Reality involved goes to show how longtime challenges like recidivism can benefit from innovation derived from IFTF researchers’ expertise in social science, quantitative research, policy analysis, public engagement, coupled with proven foresight methodologies that allow our team to develop and prototype new solutions for a more equitable future.”
The 3 future scenarios play out
- The viewer getting a ride from an old friend and realizing there are illegal drugs and alcohol in the car.
- The viewer needing to ask a stranger for help with directions in a busy and crowded subway station.
- The viewer having to answer questions about their incarceration while applying for a job.
For those re-entering society after serving long-term sentences, a free future just weeks away can feel as unfamiliar as a future a decade away, but since VR for Reentry was implemented in May, 2019 at South Middlesex Correctional Center, all participants reported feeling better prepared and more in control of their future as they re-enter society. IFTF has leveraged Futures Thinking methods within this training to explore how to best to help prepare this population for healthy decision-making when stressors are frequently present.
“This project is an immersive recovery service that uses peer-supported discussions and co-created VR to help returning citizens practice and build emotional wellness in safe groups.”
—Melissa Teng, Project Lead at Emerson College
The virtual reality scenarios and the tools for thinking through these triggering situations are now being rolled out at South Middlesex Correctional Center, and the Massachusetts DoC will continue to track and assess the outcomes for measurable reductions in the rates of recidivism for women in the state of Massachusetts. This summer, the second phase of the project will begin with the roll out of the VR scenarios in a transitioning community training program.
During the time since this project has been implemented (May, 2019), all participants who have gone through the training have reported that they feel better prepared and more in control of their future as they re-enter society. Institute for the Future’s Equitable Futures Lab—striving to engage with public services by using proven foresight methodologies to develop and prototype innovative solutions for an equitable future—is proud to be involved in the first stages of a program that could change the way our nation views the corrections system and thinks about equitably supporting vulnerable members of our society.