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SPECIAL DISCUSSION: Employing Education Technology in Facility-based Classrooms

Hello Members,

I am pleased to welcome you to this special online discussion. The U.S. Department of Education Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education’s (OCTAE) Correctional Education Reentry Model encourages correctional education providers to use technology to enhance and increase program access. The Federal Interagency Reentry Council has released two myth busters describing how advanced technologies are being used successfully in juvenile and adult correctional facilities to broaden the scope of their education services while maintaining security.

This online discussion will focus on:

  • The types of technologies — both hardware and software — being used,
  • How these technologies address security concerns, and
  • Challenges: such as insufficient resources and staffing to purchase, implement, maintain, and monitor advanced technologies.

Our aim in this discussion is to expand the knowledge and experience of correctional education providers that have or want to employ education technology in their facility-based classrooms. Please join us by sharing your experiences, successes and challenges, and by engaging with others in the field who have done, or are doing, something innovative inside their classrooms from which you wish to learn.

In this discussion we hope to build on our previous Technology in Correctional Education discussion to focus on the expanding implementation of education technology in secure classrooms and to encourage you, the educators, to ask specific feet-on-the-ground questions designed to facilitate replication of successful techniques and programs.


Heather Erwin's picture
One hundred

According to Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education: A Meta-Analysis of Programs That Provide Education to Incarcerated Adults, by Lois M. Davis, Robert Bozick, Jennifer L. Steele, Jessica Saunders and Jeremy N. V. Miles of The RAND Corporation, the following list is an accurate breakdown (as of publication of the study in 2014) of the number of states offering some sort of internet access in their secure facilities, as well as how that access is categorized:

Access to the Internet -- for Correctional Education Programs and Number of States (%) Offering

  • Only teachers/instructors live: 30 states (73% surveyed)
  • No student access: 26 states (62% surveyed)
  • Student simulated access: 16 states (38% surveyed)
  • Student restricted live access: 6 states (14% surveyed)





mtolbert's picture

If you are a facility-based instructor who has simulated access to the Internet in your classroom, how do you use it to support/enhance instruction?  What are the benefits?  And, what challenges do you experience?

ajonesgirl's picture

I have an inmate who is a coder who works for me takes the websites like Goodwill Free Online website and makes it a standalone for a Resident Information Center she designed and created for all inmates to use for getting DOC documents, forms, handbooks, information, etc.

It deserves National recognition because it is a state of the art web design that really works, others could share her expertise to create a prototype for nationwide deployment.

Heather Erwin's picture
One hundred

This sounds like a fantastic project!  

A few questions for you: 

  • From where does your coder work, and is she granted special privileges/status because of her position?
  • How did the project develop and are you working with your incarcerated coder to train others to take over when she's released, or to expand the scope of work she can do?
  • How have your state and facility directors responded to the project?

Thanks so much for sharing this great example!

-- Heather

ajonesgirl's picture

She developed the program on her own and maintained it for two years.  She is now paid to maintain it and the resident network In her role as IT Support. She serves residents, staff and volunteers in using technology in programming.  I also work with the male population so she covers IT questions while I am out of the facility on the other side.  Her level of expertise is on the expert level and she maintains a high Code of Ethics for her work, reporting in writing daily the problems and fixes she uses.  The paper saved from providing residents with online information is incredible.

Betty Abbott's picture

We have a pre release program for our inmates. We have a few inmates who worked with the instructor to develop a mock web based set up for the program. It serves a few purposes--it gives them simulated web based access and they can work independently on their studies prior to meeting in class. The system tracks their progress and assignments. They have no access to the internet but can experience how a website works. The facility has done this for the reentry resources too. Seems to be working well.

Heather Erwin's picture
One hundred

Below is the main text from the Reentry MythBuster for Incarcerated and Reentering Adults released by the Department of Education in 2014. There is a lot of information in this document, so please take your time going through it. After you've had a chance to look it over, I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts on this information and if your experiences are reflective of or in opposition to it?

REENTRY MYTHBUSTER – On Information Technology Access in Secure Classrooms

First, What is a Reentry Mythbuster? -- This Myth Buster is one in a series of fact sheets intended to clarify existing federal policies that affect formerly incarcerated individuals and their families. Each year, about 640,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons. Another 9 million cycle through local jails.

When reentry fails, the social and economic costs are high -- more crime, more victims, more family distress, and more pressure on already strained state and municipal budgets.

Because reentry intersects with health and housing, education and employment, family, faith, and community well-being, many federal agencies are focusing on initiatives for the reentry population. Under the auspices of the Cabinet-level interagency Reentry Council, federal agencies are working together to enhance community safety and well-being, assist those returning from prison and jail in becoming productive citizens, and save taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration. For more information about the Reentry Council, go to:

Myth:O Incarcerated persons should never be allowed Internet access because it creates an unreasonable risk to the public and to institutional security.oduct of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council June 2014

• Correctional institutions have a dual mandate: to protect public safety by running safe and secure prisons and to provide incarcerated individuals with treatment and training necessary to be productive and law-abiding citizens upon release. To address both mandates, a nuanced approach to Internet access can be used for many incarcerated populations—somewhere between “no access” and “unfettered access.” Lack of access can be an impediment to release preparation. Unfettered access can result in significant risks to public safety.

• Education and education-related activities—including computer assisted instruction, online learning, digital literacy development, assessment, certification, and academic research—are key reasons to examine safe and effective ways to expand access in correctional settings. However, numerous other reentry-related functions are also greatly enhanced by access to the Internet. These include activities such as seeking employment; accessing benefits important to sustaining a crime-free post-release life; and, addressing issues such as child support payments and student loans, and obtaining a driver’s license and health insurance.

• While access to online resources is appropriate for some segments of correctional populations, it may not be for others. Incarcerated individuals nearing release, especially those who have progressed to lower security status, may appropriately be afforded greater levels of access to electronic information resources. Correctional professionals classify members of the prison population to security levels and these security classifications will be a key determiner of appropriate levels of access to information technology. No access or extremely limited access may be necessary in the case of individuals in higher security risk classifications.

• Technologies to permit controlled or limited access to the Internet have advanced and are increasingly being applied in correctional settings. One prominent example is the now routine use of limited, electronic messaging for personal correspondence in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. This secure filtered access provides inmates with an additional method of communication with friends and family beyond visiting, telephone calls, and letters. At the same time, electronic messaging allows for security oversight through greater ease of monitoring and review. It also decreases physical mail, thereby allowing correctional staff to spend time on security and inmate programming rather than processing and inspecting in and outgoing mail. Other correctional systems also apply information technology security solutions to expand cost-effective reentry programming while maintaining high standards of institutional security.

• While expanding information technology access within correctional settings is not without challenges - particularly challenges relating to costs and security concerns - as the technology matures there should be increasing opportunities to use these tools in a safe and cost-effective manner to assist inmates in education, programming, visitation, and reentry transition to help them return to their communities as law-abiding citizens.


For More Infromation:

To learn more about technology solutions in correctional education, refer to the forthcoming publication Information Technology and the Internet (Fall 2014).

For further information on how technology is transforming education, refer to the National Education Technology Plan.

prisonpc's picture

I concur with the points raised. There are strong business cases to be made for the value that gated Internet access can bring to societal reintegration/reentry, and we have these same discussions here in Australia with most of our jurisdictions.

Implementing a Prisoner Interactive Learning System (PILS) solution, while not sacrificing the security of the facility, is achievable. I've worked with a number of correctional facilities over the past decade who have done so, including gated/filtered web and email services. As a result, a colleague and I have prepared this design handbook. I welcome any feedback or questions.

Heather Erwin's picture
One hundred

Hi Ron,

Thanks for your comments.  Can you talk more about the security solutions your system deploys and how it is currently being used? Do you see cross-over/parallels within the US system?

Thanks for sharing your point of view!

prisonpc's picture

Sure thing...

Regardless of whether or not any Internet services are required, it's important that security be integrated into the solution from the ground-up. Customising a COTS system to hopefully satisfy the security requirements in a correctional facility is asking for trouble, as the design methodologies behind generic business and home systems generally prioritise convenience over security. There are too many vulnerabilities - both known and unknown.

We've seen jurisdictions deploy COTS computers, only to have a security breach promptly result in them removed and a moratorium imposed on all future interactive technology.

A number of the prisons we work with provide web and email access for the inmates, while others are more conservative where policy dictates that all prisoner systems are air-gapped from the world. The decision behind providing web and email access is generally driven by the human rights aspect, the facility's telephone usage policy, and the need for access to educational services which are inevitably moving online.

Our solutions restrict inmates from corresponding via email with anyone not explicitly approved, just like the inmate telephone system does. Many other filters are in place which deny attachments, key-phrases, size of emails, spam, viruses, etc. Violations trigger staff alerts and email is quarantined for manual review.

Web access is limited such that specific inmates can access specific sites, yet are denied access to other pages on those sites. For example, Fred can access his courseware at CMU while Charlie has access to MIT, yet neither can access the others' courseware nor can they access the forums or webmail pages. Under no circumstances are inmates permitted access to social networking sites.

There are countless security attributes beyond email and web issues which I could cover, but perhaps best to answer questions and address examples of how things are done on your side of the pond.

As for the benefits; we've seen many inmates gain their university degrees through the systems we manage, and prison staff have explicitly stated to me they expect those inmates will not return to custody.

Brant Choate's picture


Can you post a link to this document?  I want to pass it along to my people.



Cindy Ramsay's picture

I have written a grant for education for the Sheriff's Department so that the inmates can get some educational programs.  My situation is most of the inmates are here only for a short time.  Does any of you out there have any ideas on what type of programs to teach and/or have available?  

David J. Rosen's picture
One hundred

Hello Cindy,

I am aware of two jails -- one in Syracuse, New York; another in New Orleans, Louisiana that use the Learner Web online in the jail education program. Presumably when inmates are released they can continue to use it in organizations in their communities. That's a key question, however: is there a relationship between the education program in the jail and the community-based education organizations where released inmates could continue the learning that they started in the jail? One of the reasons jails are now using Khan Academy is because it is free, it can be used offline in the jail education program, and then -- once they are released -- inmates can use it wherever they can get Internet access: in a library, community-based education program, a housing development, or elsewhere.

This raises an interesting question for jail education program staff; since these usually are short programs, shouldn't the main education goal be to help inmates acquire the reading, digital literacy and online learning skills needed to continue learning once they are released? It would also help, of course, if they knew what adult education programs were offered in the community they were being released to, or to knew how to find and access these.

David J. Rosen


Cindy Ramsay's picture

Thank you David.  I have a contact with the Unlimited Learning Center and she is using Khan Academy at her school.  She also has teachers that can teach from her school about 8 miles away over to the jail.  In the grant I asked for web based TV's for the jail, teachers salary, supplies and extra deputies to work be able to do this.  I am wanting to have basic Life Skills classes as those would short termed education.  Yes the cooperating school will pick any of the inmates to carry on their training.  We are trying to teach the same thing as she does so we can work together.  Yes on the reading literacy skills that is something we have discussed and we have teachers though her school that will cover this.  We asked in the grant for a part time person to screen each person and find out what level they are at with education grade levels.  

Thank you for your input on this.  I work for the Montezuma County Sheriff's Office in Cortez CO 

John Linton's picture

This is an interesting and dynamic topic.  Thanks to all for participating in the discussion. 

I just wanted to quickly add a few words with a little additional background on the “Reentry Mythbuster” on information technology access in correctional institutions.  The federal Reentry Council is a cabinet level inter-agency group under the leadership of the Attorney General which works to improve re-entry success by coordinating work across and among federal agencies.  General information about the Reentry Council is available at:

One topic that touches on reentry and the reentry work of different federal agencies is information technology access by prisoners.  To this end, the Reentry Council published a “ Reentry Mythbuster” on information technology in adult corrections last year which is available along with other topical mythbusters at:

Technology access by prisoners is challenging to corrections for a variety of reasons.  In fact, it is so challenging that historically access has been virtually non-existent.  But the world is changing and educators in corrections interested in expanding access are not alone in knowing the importance of working through these challenges.  As the mythbuster points out, there are “solutions” emerging to the security challenges and information technology access is important in numerous arenas important to reentry success.  

Those of us involved with supporting the work of the Council hope that this mythbuster is encouraging and informing constructive conversations between “treatment providers” (correctional educators and other corrections focused professionals) and those responsible for institutional operations including security.  

Suzanne's picture

Are you aware of any Tablet devices that do not have internet access, but are preloaded with educational programs that can be used in a correctional classroom?

MBautista's picture


    there have been a number of vendors coming out with tablets recently.

   The Correctional Education Association (CEA) partnered with Union Supply and JPay to create a preloaded solution.  The article is missing on CEA's site, but here is the newsletter where they announced the venture.


    Here is the original offerings on Union Supply's tablet


    Also, not as an advertisement, but CEA is doing a leadership forum at the end of the month where tablets are one of the primary subjects.

You need to be at the CEA Forum on March 29 -31!   And your teachers and trainers do too!  Forum and hotel registration links are at the bottom of this message.

First reason to be at the Forum:  Corrections is slowly but surely becoming internet friendly for correctional education.  The major focus of the annual CEA Leadership Forum will be on the use of secure internet and computer technology.  Every secure tablet producer will be present and show off their correctional education projects.  Attendees will be able to see and handle JPay tablets. The Forum will be the largest conference ever devoted to technology in correctional education.

Heather Erwin's picture
One hundred

Absolutely correct, and thank you for sharing!  CEA's larger Annual Conference will also focus on delivering educational resources using technology, including mobile devices.  That is scheduled for July 12-15 in Crystal City, VA, just outside of DC. More info is available on CEA's website, as noted above, at  

Also, a point of clarification -- CEA is "endorsing" two separate tablets, one from Union Supply and one from JPay. The Union tablet, a 7" model, comes pre-loaded with educational content, and the JPay tablet, a larger 10" device, downloads educational content from a JPay kiosk.  Both are secure and do not have wifi capabilities. There are other specifically education focused devices, but they are wifi or 3G/4G (cellular) based. There are also several examples of web-based models that are not device specific, such as Google's Chromebooks using Google's Management Console, and iPathways common core aligned web-based curriculum. I'm happy to give more information off-line if anyone is interested, or please also feel free to contact CEA via the website listed above.

-- Heather

rchamberlain's picture

I think we are seeing an explosion of opportunity in corrections educational technology. There are many options now from kiosk-mode tablets, to Wi-Fi tablets, to cellar connected tablets, and content accessed via the internet that is essentially a very large Local Area Network (LAN). The technology you choose depends on your infrastructure capabilities and your comfort level allowing the different modes of connection.

All of the current providers that I know of are walling off access beyond their content; one way or the other. So access to remote content can all be done safely and securely if one pays enough attention to the details when setting things up.

I have been providing content to 33 facilities in Illinois via a geographically large Local Area Network using the internet since last August.

The key point here is that inmates who are transitioning need to have the skills to use current technology. Exposure to technology-based curriculum or activities is a great first step. As David Rosen mentions, there is a need to prepare inmates to have the digital literacy skills to continue their learning, but I would add, also for them to function in today’s job market. You need digital literacy skills to work in a warehouse, to run a machine in a factory, etc.

I am really interested to hear about what is going on in Australia regarding gated internet access; I think that is truly groundbreaking. I think a goal would be to allow gated internet access so inmates can really see the power of the internet. I am not sure how this could be structured, are there any off the shelf systems that provide real-time filtering of content accessed rather than just restricting access to x, y or z web pages? It seems a robust dynamic filtering system (they do this in K-12 schools, i.e. Websense) might be utilized as filtering software for accessing websites. Anyone have any experience with anything like this in a corrections setting?

Richard Chamberlain

Betty Abbott's picture

There are other tablets available and some have wireless connections. I have reviewed many and like the options provided by APDS (American Prison 

Data Systems). The tablet itself is a good product and they have done extensive testing to assure it cannot be hacked and inmates cannot access the internet. There are lots of programs available on the tablet. I am researching all tablets for our department to determine what might fit our needs best.  There are options out there and it seems more are becoming available so it will take time to determine the best options for each department. I hope people keep providing good information and responses. The CEA Leadership Forum will provide additional information the end of the month!!

Judith Renyi's picture

Dear All, 

We've been suffering from being suspected of being spam for a while, or the Mayor's Commission  on Literacy would have jumped into this discussion weeks ago. We are currently setting up a myPLACE campus inside the Philadelphia Prison System (PPS), and hope to have it up and running very soon. I'm attaching a full description of myPLACE system here, recently published in Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal (Spring, 2015). What we've done to make the system secure inside the prison is the following: we've provided the PPS IT staff with the full list of URLs needed to run the LMS (we use Canvas by Instructure) and the SIS. Only the instructional URLs will be available to the incarcerated learners, so they can't wander off onto the Internet at large. We've eliminated course mail for security reasons. Learners can enter the "public" cohort discussions, but cannot communicate privately with each other. We will set up individualized groups to enable each learner to communicate with the facilitator, consisting of learner, facilitator, and a member of the PPS education staff. The staff will handle enrollments and setting up each learner's account. PPS staff will be able to view everything in the courses at any time. 

The courses require a full keyboard and access to Microsoft Office, since we are teaching business standard computing along with reading, writing, and math. While there is a lot of hoopla about tablets, and they have a value and a place, being able to construct professional resumes, search for jobs, and apply for jobs, and ultimately, be functional 21st-century adults, we strongly believe that the ability to keyboard and use business software is a basic literacy. 

Finally, since the systems in use in PPS and in the community are the same, the learners' education transcripts will be available to us upon their return to the community. This enables us to re-enroll any released learner in a partially completed class wherever they left off, and continue their education as soon as possible without the need to re-test in the community. The learner's individual learning account and file storage provided as part of the LMS enrollment is also available to that individual upon release, meaning that all the work they have done prior to release is accessible to them and to their community-based education personnel.

This system is part of a Department of Justice Second Chance Act grant to the City of Philadelphia. We're enormously excited about this work, which along with the City's re-entry program, RISE, housing, employment, and other partners, promises to reduce recidivism.

We are also active members of the Philadelphia Re-entry Coalition. We're in discussions with a nearby state correctional institution, looking at the pre-release population that expects to return to the City of Philadelphia.  



mtolbert's picture

Hi Judith. This sounds like a great way to help facilitate incarcerated students' transition back to the community. In addition to adult literacy providers, do other education and support organizations that may be serving this population have access to myPLACE?  For example, higher education institutions or one-stops?

Judith Renyi's picture

Yes indeed, all of the partner agencies can view the data. We just completed a training this week for 72 staff of the one-stops. They will use the registration system in two ways: to view education attainments and test scores of any job seeker (including returning citizens) for eligibility for OJT, ITA's, etc., and to pre-register any job seeker that they think will benefit from education prior to being tested by employers, etc. We have a meeting scheduled this week with the key people at the Community College of Philadelphia to talk about bridge-building, and eventually using the data in our system in a variety of ways. All of the Title II funded literacy providers in the City are partners in this project, along with 18 other agencies at this writing. When an individual completes the full registration data, we also have a question regarding giving permission to all who will be working to assist in advancing their education and employment to view their data. The response (y/n) is basically attested to by the person entering the data, and dated. A "no" response will result in our letting the person know we will not be able to assist that person.