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Ohio Expands Virtual Learning in Correctional Facilities

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has expanded access to a virtual learning platform for those in the state’s correctional facilities to improve the re-entry process and reduce recidivism.

Hands seen clasped together reaching out from within a jail cell.
The state of Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) is expanding access to statewide learning in its 28 correctional facilities.

Corrections departments are increasingly expanding access to virtual learning opportunities for individuals who are incarcerated to reduce recidivism and prepare them for the workforce, as seen in places like Michigan, Washington, D.C., and New York City.

“We know that education impacts recidivism positively,” said Jennifer Sanders, superintendent of schools for the ODRC Ohio Central School System. “And so we believe that the implementation of Chromebooks and the expanded use of those will allow more students to have longer access.”

In fact, the state had been working with Google for several years with the intention of bringing Chromebooks into the state’s prison education programs; 10,000 have been deployed across ODRC’s 28 facilities. The state initially partnered with Resultant in 2022, and the May 2023 announcement said that the state had contracted with the company to implement a scalable platform to expand access to virtual learning. Resultant is a Google Education deployment partner.

“And as a school district, we really wanted to make sure that we were providing education in the way that education happens in the 21st century,” Sanders said.

By implementing Chromebooks — and more recently making the decision to expand the use of the learning platform — students will have longer periods of access to educational opportunities. And notably, that learning can happen outside of the school building. She believes that this increased access will impact recidivism because people will have opportunities to obtain adult diplomas, easing their re-entry to society and the workforce.

The expansion also increases access to a service ODRC offers through a relationship with the Department of Job and Family Services, Sanders explained, which allows people who are incarcerated to securely access a resume portal and job search portal, helping further the ease of transition into the workforce upon re-entry.

“I think what we've seen nationally is a shift from purely punitive corrections to a much stronger focus on rehabilitative corrections,” said Resultant President John Roach.

Twenty or 30 years ago rehabilitative training and education had to be done through books or in person by necessity, which could create barriers to access for some. Limitations around teachers and classrooms led to inherent problems when it came to scaling these programs, he said. Now, corrections departments can offer additional opportunities that ultimately help improve rehabilitative outcomes, from recidivism to workforce entry.

To actively participate in society today, especially when it comes to the modern workforce, individuals need to be well-versed in technology skills, which he said is one of the secondary benefits of this partnership.

“I think the ancillary benefit of the technology acumen that all the offenders will gain through the platform, it has the potential to be just as important as the expanded education and services delivered to the offenders,” Roach said.

The system tracks login times, course participation and certifications gained. Roach believes this usage data will help the state continually assess and improve learning opportunities and outcomes. By using AI and machine learning, he explained, officials can get a better understanding of specific characteristics of subgroups of offenders that attain certifications, allowing long-term outcomes to be observed more clearly.

Sanders said that ODRC regularly looks at device usage data and monitors student progress through various applications. She explained that the state is looking to measure the speed at which people can complete programming and obtain credentials. Also, anecdotal conversations offer feedback to ODRC.

Looking forward, Sanders said the state is working to build out further use of Google Workspace and Google Meet to continually improve education environments and delivery of educational content. Through 2023, she said the state will be exploring the ways in which it can take this platform further to better serve individuals.

“Our department believes that education is a rehabilitative necessity and providing teachers and students the right tools in the 21st century is extremely important to us, and it is from that lens that we've started down this pathway,” she said, underlining the vast usage of technology in society today. “We believe that from a rehabilitative perspective, engaging in education through these tools is so important that we wanted to make sure it happened — and so that is the catalyst to this whole journey that we've been on.”
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.