During the 20th century, preparation for release figured as a crucial part of the prison experience. In the past three decades, this philosophy around prisoner reentry has changed dramatically. According to a 2003 paper by Seiter and Kadela on reentry programs, “prisoners are serving significantly longer prison terms, and only a small percentage is receiving the benefit of extensive rehabilitation or pre-release programs. The communities are more disorganized, their families are less likely to be supportive, and the releasees find fewer social services available to them in the community. Most distressing is that a large number of releasees are returned to prison, either for committing new crimes or for violating the technical conditions of their parole or release supervision” (361).
Attention is focused on the increasing number of offenders in prison, and not enough on the growing number of ex-offenders, those who have been released and need help re-integrating into society. Though there are existing community re-entry programs in the major cities, these programs have not changed much over time.
Our platform is setting out to transform reentry programs with a more engaging and accessible retraining platform for ex-offenders. The platform would partner with state parole boards to identify inmates that are nearing release to make an early connection, with participation beginning upon release. Our online platform offers bite-sized tutorials that break down different skills into digestible lessons, with progressive stages. These offer “little wins” that will keep participants encouraged.
The study also shows that obtaining a job is the key challenge for ex-offenders, as they lack job skills and experience and have criminal records (367). Without a stable job, housing, and other basic needs, recidivism are likely. According to the MDRC think tank, successful reentry is rare: “the most recent national data show that two-thirds of ex-prisoners are rearrested, and half are re-incarcerated within three years — many for technical violations of parole conditions, rather than for new crimes.”
We want to address this by helping ex-offenders develop employable skills and experience. There is a portfolio element that aims to help ex-offenders build out a new resume. This would enable participants to track the progress of different skills, display completed projects, earn micro-credentials, and build a visual portfolio of their work.
When starting to use the program, a user would fill out a preliminary survey (similar to that of DuoLingo) to take inventory of existing skills and interests. This information is intended to feed an algorithm with information to create an individualized learning plan. Similar to Lynda, the platform would then produce a personalized training program, which would continue to adjust to changing skills and interests. The goal is to first explore a range of suitable skills, before honing in on those that the user expresses most interest and aptitude in.
Offline counterparts would focus on fostering a community among these ex-offenders, both during the program meetings times and in free maker-space style workshops (that would offer additional credentials for their portfolio). Upon completion of their initial training program, the platform would facilitate matches with a transitional employment program e.g. short-term internship with a stipend to earn an income and become reintegrated into society. As they progress into transitional employment, they can use keep developing skills on the side and use the search feature to troubleshoot and learn skills specific to that job.