Virtual Reality: Helping Incarcerated Parents

Virtual reality is revolutionary technology but some ways are less expected than others. For instance, VR is being used to help incarcerated parents be better for their children.

PENNSYLVANIA STATE | The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) and Amachi Pittsburgh have announced a new virtual reality (VR) pilot program that will be used to help nurture the relationships between incarcerated parents and their children. Building upon the existing “InsideOut Dads” and “Inside Out” programs with the use of VR technology, incarcerated parents will have the ability to partake in simulated environments that will enhance their parenting skills. These simulations will be managed by DOC staff and can be adapted and customized in real time.

“The overwhelming majority of incarcerated parents will return to their families and communities at the conclusion of their prison sentence, and the DOC is committed to setting them up for success,” said Department of Corrections Acting Secretary, George Little. “Practice makes perfect, and we hope role-playing with the assistance of virtual avatars will help parents and children see beyond facility walls and build stronger families and safer communities.”

This collaboration is taking place between the DOC and Wrap Technologies, a technology company for the public safety sector. Children do not have to travel to a DOC facility to participate. Community providers Amachi Pittsburgh and Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC) in Philadelphia facilitate virtual reality visits for participating children.

“Our team is thrilled to partner with the PA Department of Corrections and Wrap to provide VR experiences for our youth and parents,” said the executive director of Amachi Pittsburgh, Anna Hollis. “VR is a new, innovative way for us to pique interest, attract new participants and spark learning, creativity, and imagination.”

“In our work with incarcerated individuals, we know that it is extremely important to have family support, including engagement with children,” said Laurie A. Corbin, PHMC managing director for community engagement. “We hope the parent and child will have a fun and educational experience which will provide them with happy memories despite their physical separation from each other.”

Researchers from the Pennsylvania State University have been selected as the evaluators for the pilot program.

“We are excited to work alongside the DOC and community partners to evaluate this new and innovative program. We hope the results will illuminate more ways for incarcerated parents and their children to enjoy learning together,” said Sara Brennen with the Penn State Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center and the Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy in the College of Education.

To be considered for the program, the applicant’s parents must be in the general population, within 3 years of their minimum date, and clear from any crimes involving minors. All funding for the new VR initiative is from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Programs. Currently, the VR program is available at SCI Phoenix, SCI Fayette, SCI Frackville, and SCI Muncy.

For more information on the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and the InsideOut Dads and Parenting Inside Out programs, visit