Criminal Sanctions Agency and University of Tampere working together to test the rehabilitation of prisoners in a virtual world

Published 4.2.2020  Updated 7.2.2020

The Smart Prison Project of the Criminal Sanctions Agency cooperates with the University of Tampere to test the impact of virtual nature environments on the well-being of prisoners and their behaviour in prison. They will test the virtual forest, sea, sailing, and climbing environments.

The pilot prisons are Riihimäki Prison and Turku Prison, where the virtual environments are offered in particular to prisoners who are isolated and have limited access to other activities. In addition, Helsinki Prison, which had a separate project to test virtual reality already last year, will be included in the pilot later in the spring.

“We gather information on the prisoners’ experiences so that we can consider whether the virtual environments could be used more widely in the rehabilitation of prisoners", says Pia Puolakka, Project Manager of the Smart Prison Project of the Criminal Sanctions Agency.

“The key virtual environment tested in this project is the virtual forest, which was developed as part of the Restorative Virtual Environments Project carried out at the University of Tampere", says Researcher Jussi Rantala from the University of Tampere. That project was funded by Business Finland and its purpose was to explore the potential of virtual natural environments to improve the wellbeing of people through psychological and physiological restoration. From the perspective of the project, prisoners are an interesting target group as they do not have access to actual nature.

The research value of the pilot that is based on the use of virtual reality goggles is also interesting because, in the past, prisons have mainly used televisions or video projectors to display nature environments. The results of the research showed that prisoners, who had watched nature imagery, felt calmer and more empathic, were less likely to get provoked, and acted less violently in prison than the control group. These experiences were also confirmed by the observations of the prison staff. (See sources)

Further information:

Pia Puolakka, Project Manager
Smart Prison Project
pia.puolakka(@)om.fi
Tel. +358 50 528 9042

Sources:

Nadkarni, M., Hasbach, P., Thys, T., Crockett, E. & Schnacker, L.: Impacts of nature imagery on people in severely nature‐deprived environments. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 15(7), 2017.