U Of I Students Design Virtual Reality For Incarcerated People

By Lee V. Gaines

Simple, everyday tasks  – like ordering coffee, crossing the street, or getting gas – can be an obstacle, or an intimidating challenge for people recently released from prison. This is especially true for people who have spent many years behind bars.

Lisa Mercer, a graphic design professor at the University of Illinois, set out to tackle this issue with her students and fellow U of I professor, William Bullock, using “immersive reality.”

The professors and students partnered with Rebecca Ginsburg of the Education Justice Project  – a college-in-prison program based out of the Danville Correctional Center – to understand the challenges facing formerly incarcerated individuals as they re-enter society.

Students then designed scenarios to help soon-to-be released inmates about how to navigate common situations. Mercer says immersive or virtual reality scenarios have the potential to reduce recidivism and help formerly incarcerated people better engage with society once they’re released from prison.