Virtual Reality Training Pioneers: Utah Correctional Industries Empowers Incarcerated Individuals with Cutting-Edge Technology

Utah Correctional Industries is one of the first in the nation to bring virtual reality headsets inside a correctional facility, utilizing them to train incarcerated individuals to work in its programs.

Done in partnership with New York-based Transfr, which specializes in VR training, UCI is giving men and women opportunities to utilize cutting-edge technology to improve their skills now. It also allows them to be better prepared to successfully reenter society in the future.

“What this does is it gives them on-the-job training before they get into our shops,” said UCI’s Jesse Gettler, based at the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison. “This is technology that’s being used in the streets and as UCI advances their training programs, we want to stay consistent to that.”

The headsets are similar to those used for gaming programs around the world. However, the programs are downloaded and installed on the devices, which do not connect to the internet. This allows UCI – a division of the Utah Department of Corrections – to maintain tight security at both CUCF and the Utah State Correctional Facility.

“UCI was the first in the nation . . .  to be able to have our inmate participants use the Transfr headsets and utilize them in the most effective way possible,” said UCI Deputy Director Armanda Mercado. “We’ve also made a lot of contact with other correctional industries who have wanted to see how we were able to implement this, so that they can follow our footsteps.”

Kate Kimmer with Transfr said that since initially partnering with UCI, the company has now joined with several other corrections departments, county jails and juvenile detention centers to utilize the headsets.

“UDC has been a champion of innovation and opportunity,” she said. “They have worked hard to offer new ways to train and onboard new employees and familiarize incarcerated teammates with emerging technologies that upskill for jobs inside and careers outside the facility.”

In addition to presenting the training, the system tracks participants, enabling supervisors to see what programs have been completed and providing feedback of what participants are missing.

Cole Munoz was one of the first UCI participants to don the googles and leap into the metaverse.

“I jumped right on it and took off with it. I didn’t want to get off of it,” he said. “It’s pretty cool. To be able to strap that on and get the training and just to actually play with it is a privilege, honestly.”

UCI’s Leigha Harris, who helps individuals get up to speed on using the headsets, said Munoz’s experience is common. Most love the opportunity, she said, because it’s outside the normal day-to-day experiences of incarceration. Plus, it gives them the chance to see what their friends and family on the outside have been doing.

Participation is voluntary and, surprisingly, Harris said not everyone was keen to go virtual.

“Quite a few offenders did not want to try it at all. And I think a lot of that is based in fear,” said Harris. “Some of them have never even had an Xbox or a Super Nintendo for that matter.”

Once past the initial stages, most are on-board with the program, she says.

“I’ve only had one that said, ‘Nope, this is not for me,’” Harris said. “He tried it and found out this is not his world.”

Mercado said as UCI expands its shops, it will offer more programs on the headsets.


Communication Office, Liam Truchard