Virtual Reality in Prison
Virtual reality (VR) is a technology that immerses users in an imagined or replicated world or simulates presence in the real world. These experiences can take the form of video games and simulations, and opportunities to use this technology are growing. One agency is testing the use of VR for incarcerated persons as an incentive and to reduce anxiety.
Moving from one housing unit to another or from one prison to another can be stressful, and both are associated with misbehaviors as incarcerated persons externalize their unease. In order to reduce these misbehaviors, incarcerated persons moving from one facility to another will have the opportunity to “visit” their new home using VR. Plans are also being made to provide incarcerated persons with recordings of local environments before release so that they are more comfortable and familiar with the community that they will be joining. VR can also serve as an incentive; incarcerated persons can earn VR time and use it to visit an amusement park, the beach, or other desirable locations.
To test the utility of VR in a prison setting, randomized controlled trials will be conducted with persons being moved or released. Participants will be randomly assigned to receive VR orientations prior to their move or release, or to procedures as usual. Self-reported experiences during and following their transitions will be compared between the two groups. Trials will also be conducted to test the utility of VR as an incentive. Participants will be randomly assigned to be offered VR experiences as an incentive for positive behavior, or to be offered the usual incentives. Misconducts and disciplinary actions will be compared between the two groups.