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Prisoners are using VR to prepare them for life after release

·2 mins

In her first week of job training, a trainee named Tiffany Joseph Busch learns how to perform an oil change. She expresses surprise at how easy it is and regrets having paid for oil changes in the past. However, the training does not involve working on actual cars but instead takes place in a virtual reality garage using a Meta Quest headset. Busch, who is currently incarcerated, is participating in a program that uses virtual reality technology to teach auto technician skills to prisoners. The aim of the program is to equip incarcerated individuals with marketable skills and improve their chances of finding employment once they are released. The program is being piloted in several correctional facilities across the United States. The non-profit organization behind the program has been providing affordable cars to low-income families since 1999. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the organization had to explore alternative ways to deliver training. They partnered with a software company that specializes in virtual reality training programs. Through the use of virtual reality headsets, the program allows trainees to learn and practice auto mechanic skills without the need for physical space or expensive equipment. The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services views the program as a way to expand job training opportunities for incarcerated individuals. The department works closely with the state’s Department of Labor to address industry needs and determine where job vacancies exist. By providing training in a few weeks’ time, the program aims to prepare individuals for employment immediately upon their release. The virtual reality program has already graduated 15 women from one of the correctional facilities. Trainees are taught skills required for tire lube technician roles and are prepared for the Automotive Service Excellence exam. The program has been well-received by the trainees, who appreciate the opportunity it presents for them to acquire valuable skills and find employment after their release. The founders of the non-profit organization are confident in the potential of virtual reality training for various industries. They believe it will revolutionize trade training and ultimately have a positive impact on marginalized populations. They anticipate that virtual reality will bridge the skills gap and help individuals escape poverty by providing affordable and accessible training opportunities.