Changing the way inmates learn

By Kai Thompson

In 2016, World Possible won a $250,000 grant to launch World Possible Justice, an initiative to build accessible technology for education in US prisons. World Possible partnered with Endless, which aims to make computing accessible, with or without Internet connection, on a juvenile prison education initiative piloted in five states including Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, Florida and Utah.

World Possible was originally created by social entrepreneurs, and provides educational support, funding, and development guidance in developing countries. The organization distributes OER on used hardware, helping disenfranchised communities connect to the internet. Both Endless and World Possible technologies rely exclusively on open-source and creative commons licensed material.

The juvenile justice program is designed to allow incarcerated youth to utilize online educational content without internet access. The Linux-based OS used in this program was field tested in developing countries where conditions are similar to those in U.S. prisons. The platform’s content and updates are free.

World Possible is building a digital library of educational resources they call RACHEL (Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education and Learning), “the world’s best educational resources, neatly packaged together for places without internet.” RACHEL can be downloaded and used without internet connection as the servers run on Intel Education Content Access Point (CAP) devices. CAP devices store up to 500 gigabytes of content, including copies of websites like Wikipedia for Schools and Khan Academy Light.

In 2015, the Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) worked with Google to bring their devices to facility schools. These devices, including Chromebooks are used with CAP servers. The various educational technology partnerships fostered in Oregon by the OYA have created a similar experience to what they might have had in public school for incarcerated and troubled youth.

The OYA received attention for their use of World Possible Justice educational technology. Carla Caesar, a marketing manager and Ryan Palmer, a senior human factors engineer, both from Intel, as well as World Possible Executive Director Jeremy Schwartz and Gary Westoby, Performance-based Standards (PbS) Oregon State Coordinator were welcomed to Camp Tillamook, an Oregon youth transitional facility using RACHEL. Using CAP devices, students were also able to build a website for Trask River Productions, a small woodworking company used for Tillamook’s vocational ed program.

According to Gary Westoby, the Performance-based Standards (PbS) Oregon State Coordinator, the use access to additional resources for detained youth empowers them and “allows them to go back out into the community and make healthy choices.” One example of this is Stephen K., a student of Camp Tillamook. He entered OYA at 17 with no high school credits. In 2016 at 22, he earned a high school diploma and started his bachelor’s in management and leadership at Portland State University with plans to pursue a master’s degree. Stephen K. stated that “having access to education through this technology has really changed my life.”

A large body of research shows that prison education systems are vital in reducing recidivism and help inmates of all ages to have better chances at success once they are released. The ongoing debate about prison education in America hits roadblocks due to concerns of accessibility and costs. World Possible Justice and the Oregon Youth Authority demonstrate the transformative and social justice capabilities of OER and the power of education and technology access for incarcerated youth.

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