Ex-inmates apply open source to rehabilitation

Almost 70 per cent of released inmates end up returning to prison. A new project uses gaming and cooperative development techniques to train ex-inmates for personal and family life.

What exactly is NuOAR, and how do you intend to use it to solve this problem?

NuOAR is a computerized learning system that we are developing. It is inspired by the SOAR (Sex-Offender Acknowledgment of Responsibility) program conducted at Harnett Correctional, in North Carolina, whose success rate is around 97 per cent over 10 years. SOAR is very dynamic, up close and very personal. "Anger Management", "Stress Techniques", "Family Roles", "Assertiveness Training", "Relating Dating & Mating", and other "modules" are presented in little bites at a time, switching modules from one to another until the overall scheme of integration of all the modules makes a cohesive whole. It takes some time and understanding to relate and personally accept what is being presented. Then, using peer-groups in real-world settings, to meet to discuss and relate to what is being presented through introspection and, like a 12 Step program, air to the group personal acknowledgments of responsibility.

How is the NuOAR learning system structured?

We hope to create a 3D, completely immersible, computer assisted learning system with simulations of various crime areas and settings, from ghettos to homes. Our concept is to have role-plays video-recorded that cover the 100+ "Elements of Criminal Thinking" and have them pop up either by situation, or proximity to a location, within the 3D environment. We're using Sun's Wonderland program as our base now.

Can you give us an example?

Say the "Element of Criminal Thinking" is "Isolation". The situation is being alone at home, and not going out because of depression or unreasonable fears. The "Home" 3D environment is called up. The pop-up videos demonstrate "Teamwork" working with and valuing others, or "Proper Assertiveness Techniques" or "Stress Reduction Techniques" or "Leadership Training". "Family Roles" would be indicated particularly or "Relating, Dating and Marriage Communication Skills". All of these can be picked by selection from a drop down menu, or by walking towards an area, or pre-selected by a councilor as a rehab course path of instruction, or just at random. During other sessions the inmate is tested for personal attributes and advancement of these skills.

Why is NuOAR computer-based?

Because of practical reasons: personally, I was lucky to get into a rehabilitation program which could only graduate 72 inmates a year: 5 eight hour days a week, with nights and a weekend full of homework, with four full time councilors. With this approach, instead we need only create things once and copy it 2.7 million times, which is about how many people are incarcerated in the US, just for starts! We'll get around to everyone on Probation/Parole later, (5-6 million) followed just a little later by everyone else (many millions!) that haven't been caught or are about to offend (at-risk), which could be anybody. Trust me on that one. They had a little sign at the door to the classroom that read "Your best thinking got you here." That hurt a lot. And it only took one error in judgment to get there.

This makes sense, but why a 3D game instead of something much simpler, like multiple-choice web questionnaires or online slideshows?

Many adult, as well as juvenile inmates, have problems with reading and writing and are unwilling to attend in a classical schoolroom setting, where there are too many painful memories of failure by it. Many people learn better through hearing or experience. So, NuOAR will deliver it's content in that fashion, to those that aren't getting reached. Most guys in prison are intelligent and articulate, they just don't do book learning well.

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