Tackling Recidivism with Tech

We’ve discussed technology and social media at length throughout this class, and while we have touched on the many positives it can bring to society, I can’t help but feel we continue to focus on the detriments that seem to lurk closely behind. These are important to recognize and contemplate, but as I continue to think of blog topics, I’m really aiming at bringing to light the ability of technology and innovation to advance society and help others. Technology has applications in all industries, but I think the real impact and emphasis should be on its ability to impact social issues and work to improve society as a whole. I looked at technology’s effect on homelessness, but this post I want to focus on how technology and education can help impact the justice system and rates of recidivism among inmates.

We all know that America’s criminal justice system has issues as mass incarceration has continued to hit record numbers. America boasts the undesirable title of the nation with the highest prison population at 2,121,600 followed by China and Brazil at just 1,649,804 and 682,901 inmates respectively. These numbers are troubling on their own, but the problem becomes even more glaring when looking at recidivism rates, or the number of people who reoffend and end up back in jail/prison. A Department of Justice report that followed inmates for a 9 year period after their release and found that 83% of prisoners were rearrested at least once. The average number of arrests in this period was a staggering five times.

While causes of this issue are many and range from cycles of poverty, environment, and crime, the key to lowering this stat is creating a reality for prisoners different than the one that put them there in the first place. This is where technology comes in, creating opportunities, educating, and developing skills that are essential to keeping them out of the system. Understandable, the reality of prison life is one generally isolated from technology and social media, the very tools that have become integral to functioning and thriving in society. This lack of experience in a digital world can often leave inmates feeling shocked and ill-equipped to successfully function lawfully in society.

To combat this, formal education, technological literacy, and even things like social media training should be a priority in our jails and prisons to prepare inmates for life outside and reduce the chance of reentry. For those who have spent considerable amount of time in the prison system, their ability to use the internet and social media to do things like search for jobs and connect to their communities is a major issue. Social media literacy is important, and while inmate unfettered access to social media is not really an option or good idea, training on acceptable and unacceptable behavior could be very beneficial. Thrown into a world run by social media, individuals can often experience trouble identifying fake news, dealing with floods of messages from family and friends, and in some cases predatory behavior by people looking to take advantage of recently released inmates.  They simply don’t have the knowledge or experience to navigate a world with a strong social media influence.

Aside from social media training, general education and tech literacy can prove a major factor in reducing recidivism in inmate populations. One company using technology to tackle both of these issues is Edovo. Edovo uses secure tablet technology to deliver free access to educational programming as well as low-cost communication. With rugged, tamper-proof tablets, similar to ipads, they restrict public internet access and unauthorized content while delivering incentivised educational materials for things like GED completion, college credits, and even vocational/life-skill training. Maintaining strict oversight and tracking of activity, the inmates are given free access to an entire platform loaded with educational tracks that provide incentives like earned movies and games to increase learning engagement. Monitored communication through their platform allows for a closer connection to support systems like family and friends without the high costs of traditional commission-based contracts normally offered. These tools enable the inmates to learn at their own pace while interacting with technology on a day-to-day basis, cementing the necessary life skills to get a job and successfully reintegrate in a digital society.

America’s prison system needs an update and a clear shift towards the education and rehabilitation of inmates in order to reduce recidivism and put an end to the revolving door many experience. Technology and social media literacy may not be a cure to the many issues faced by inmates leaving the justice system, but it’s a necessary first step towards making reentry easier for those isolated from modern day society.

6 comments

  1. You make some great points here. Incarceration is definitely a significantly larger and systemic issue, but I think all of implementations you talked about could really alleviate the impact that incarceration has on inmates. I also wonder if there is a way to use technology to promote reform without the need of incarceration. For example, mandated online programs that can educate and enforce responsibility, therefore reducing the need for incarceration all together. Obviously in certain circumstances incarceration is necessary, but I think there are ways technology can be used to avoid it.

  2. If the intent of the criminal justice system is rehabilitation, then yes, this post is 100% on the money. But, unfortunately, private prison is big business. Therefore, a system that’s purely punitive will continue to reign as recidivism ultimately leads to less vacancy. I wonder how tech, and particularly the firm you call out, can help change the incentive structure. If there were most cost efficient way to rehabilitate, monitor and measure an inmate’s rehab and adjustment back to society, then maybe we could reward prison systems for being more effective and not merely in existence.

  3. I think you did a great job highlighting a positive impact of technology in this post. As you said we have a tendency in our class to look at things through a fairly pessimistic lens. While I love the work that they are doing to educate and hopefully rehabilitate inmates, I do agree that the systemic issues will really have to be solved before real, long lasting change occurs. I’d love to see how technology could enable this systemic change. I think this seems like a great start though !

  4. I’m glad you touched on this topic as I feel it’s incredibly important but rarely actually spoken about. I agree with Jim’s point above that “If the intent of the criminal justice system is rehabilitation, then yes, this post is 100% on the money. But, unfortunately, private prison is big business.” However, I recently read an article (can’t seem to find it now) that stated that felons given the option of taking computer science classes found it far easier to find jobs after being released. Not only because they were able to take on freelance jobs where employers have less strict requirements, but also because they were able to show value and portray an identity that was separate from their criminal identity.

  5. Very informative post! It is an interesting topic. The idea of utilizing tech education to rehabilitate those who are incarcerated is a great one. I think this will give great and amazing skills to ex-convicts who already have a tough time getting a job. I agree with Jim that unfortunately the criminal system does not always do the right job when reintegrating men and women into society. Yet, an education on tech could be the missing piece.

  6. Loved how you chose to focus on a positive aspect of technology, as I agree with you that we do tend to focus on the negatives a lot in class (although with good reason). I certainly was aware that the US prison system is flawed, but those statistics are staggering. It was really interesting to read about the positive benefits this technology has for inmates, and I see it having a lot of potential. I agree that Jim made a great point and the incentives for the whole system need to be changed for lasting change to occur, but this seems like a good start.

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