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OJJDP News @ a Glance

This issue highlights program site visits by OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan, virtual reality tools connecting incarcerated parents with their kids, OJJDP’s support of programs designed for girls, and one young person’s plans to reach the White House.
Message From the Administrator: Justice-Involved Youth Face Unexpected, Damaging Outcomes
OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan - News @ a Glance

Virtual Reality “Adventures” Augment Visits Between Incarcerated Parents and Their Children

Photo of a youth demonstrating the use of a virtual reality headset and controllers during an October 2022 media event
A youth goes on a virtual reality adventure during an October 2022 media event held by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

Photo courtesy of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

Parental incarceration traumatizes children and puts them at heightened risk for difficulties at school and engaging in antisocial and criminal behaviors. Maintaining contact between parents and their children is considered the best way to mitigate that trauma—and virtual reality tools are helping to make that possible.

A pilot project led by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is allowing incarcerated parents at four Pennsylvania correctional facilities to share virtual reality “adventures” with their children. The kids participate from community sites in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, joining their parents virtually for adventures ranging from real-life exploration—such as a trip to Antarctica or Machu Picchu—to fantasy, such as a visit to the world of the Disney film Frozen. Children and parents connect via special headsets, with the child typically leading the virtual journey while the parent watches.

The pilot is supported by a 3-year grant awarded under OJJDP’s Second Chance Act Addressing the Needs of Incarcerated Parents and Their Minor Children program. The virtual visitations are designed to promote greater engagement between parents and children by providing a fun experience children will anticipate with excitement. “It’s a nontraditional way to connect outside of normal visitation,” says Laurie Corbin, managing director for community engagement at Public Health Management Corporation, which hosts the children in Philadelphia; Amachi Pittsburgh hosts the children in that city. These shared adventures offer a comfortable setting for both children and parents, Ms. Corbin says. It is designed to be fun, not awkward. 

Virtual reality adventures “provide hope for the parent in prison and hope for the child at home.”

—Laurie Corbin, managing director for community engagement at Public Health Management Corporation

The adventures are intended to enhance parent-child visits, not replace in-person or virtual visits, says Kelly Martini, grants manager for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections began the virtual reality visits in February 2022. Based on feedback from parents, corrections staff, and community partners, the visits are meeting the project’s objective: improving parent-child interactions. OJJDP has approved a department request for additional headsets, to extend the program to each of the 24 state prisons.

Pennsylvania is using the virtual reality adventures as an incentive for incarcerated parents with minor children to participate in an optional parenting program, which also relies on the virtual reality platform. In that component of the pilot, they interact with child avatars in real-life scenarios, practicing parenting and communications skills. It follows the same curriculum as the department’s traditional parenting program. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University are evaluating both components of the pilot project, which will conclude in September.


A new brief from OJJDP partner The Council of State Governments Justice Center shares best practices for child-friendly video visits with an incarcerated parent. An accompanying webinar highlights the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Other resources addressing the needs of incarcerated parents and their minor children can be found on the center’s website.

Date Created: June 21, 2023