(WHTM) — The Department of Corrections is teaming up with Pittsburgh nonprofit Amachi for a one-a-kind initiative.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for kids and parents to reconnect especially after a long period of no visitation,” said Anna Hollis, executive director for Amachi.
It involves using an immersive, 360-degree virtual reality experience from Wrap Technologies, offering multiple scenarios — everything from hiking together to taking a trip into space.
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“They only see each other when they are not wearing a headset. We begin the visit with the child and parent connecting, talking, catching up, then they decide what adventure they want to take on together,” Hollis said.
They have the same experience at the same time but in two different places.
“They have a shared experience that takes them outside of the harsh reality of the separation that they have, and where they find themselves,” Hollis said. “It gives that parent an opportunity to parent from the inside no matter how long they’ll be away.”
This virtual reality experiment is being funded by a $600,000 federal grant that’s also being used to train correctional guards and hold inmate parenting classes.
“Ninety-five percent of the men and women who come to us at the Department of Corrections are coming home someday and coming home to their families one day. We don’t want it to be a situation where daddy says ‘I’m back,’ maybe with programs like this daddy never really has to leave,” said Acting Secretary George Little, PA Departments of Corrections.
This is only being done in Pennsylvania. The program is in place now at four facilities in the state. None are in the Midstate, yet, but program leaders hope to expand. Penn State has been brought on board to evaluate the program as it plays out.