By: Sarah Osei, Regional Lead (West Africa) Instill Education & Prof. Francis Owusu-Mensah, CEO, ESDEV Foundation Africa
Digital skills and technologies are critical levers in the rehabilitation and reintegration of prison inmates into society. The rapid digitalization that has occurred in recent years in Ghana and around the world, has indeed been unprecedented. The COVID-19 pandemic also acted as a catalyst, accelerating the adoption of digital technologies, and thereby transforming the way we live and work. UNESCO (2018) defines digital skills as a range of abilities to use digital devices, communication applications, and networks to access and manage information.
Technology in the 21st Century has revolutionized every aspect of societal life and will continue to shape the future of our world. Digital skills acquisition is therefore essential for one’s active participation in societal life – be it in education and training, employment, communication, and access to services. The digital transformation thus presents an opportunity, particularly for Africa, to transform correctional education by embracing technology to better equip incarcerated individuals with the skills necessary for their successful reintegration into society.
Ghana and many African countries recognize the potential of technology in transforming education and skills for employability. Ghana, for example, in 2008 developed the ICT in Education policy with the goal to shift focus from traditional memory-based learning to a more creative and critical-thinking-oriented education system for socio-economic transformation. In the 2018 Education Strategic Plan Ghana further strengthened her commitment to transforming education in line with 21st Century demands. The plan emphasizes the importance of equipping educators and learners with digital skills towards employment, decent jobs, and entrepreneurship. Although the mainstream education system is fast integrating technology and digital skills into curricula, the same cannot be said of correctional education and related programmes for prison inmates. This creates a significant education gap for inmates and hinders their ability to reintegrate into society successfully upon release from incarceration. It is also an affront to the unequivocal commitment of all UN Member States to eradicate poverty in all its forms, end discrimination and exclusion, as well as reduce inequalities and vulnerabilities.
Interventions to address these gaps such as the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications (GIFEC) and the Ghana Prisons Service Connectivity project are initiatives in the right direction. Also the Plan Volta Foundation, the University of Cape Coast and the Ghana Prisons Service partnership to bring tertiary education to the doorstep of prison inmates are good examples in addressing the problem. However, as penal policies in Ghana focuses mainly on custody, deterrence, and retribution; it may not be a priority for government and the Prisons Administration to ensure that prison inmates have access to ICT- based educational resources to assist their rehabilitation and reintegration into society,
This article serves to emphasize the importance of using digital technologies to transform, rehabilitate and reintegrate inmates into society. It underscores the role of technology in correctional education programmes with the goal of enhancing opportunities for their successful reintegration into society, thereby leaving no one behind in the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development. The article also highlights some challenges and provides recommendations which serve to enrich governments and stakeholders’ policies and programmes targeting prison inmates.
Technology as a boost to Correctional Education Programmes in Ghana
Digital literacy and technology proficiency are well acknowledged as essential skills for employability and promote incarcerated individual’s successful reintegration into society. It provides a sense of accomplishment and empowerment and serve to boost an individual’s self-esteem and confidence. Such skills are also important for an individual who may have faced stigma and other challenges related to incarceration. Providing education and digital skills training opportunities for individuals serving prison sentences must not only serve rehabilitation purposes, but also enhance their future employability with a view to reduce the rate of recidivism.
Ghana, like many other African countries, faces overcrowding and highly congested prisons. As at July 2023, Ghanaian prisons were overcrowded with 4,972 inmates more than the actual capacity of 10,265, representing a 48% congestion rate. In addition to the high rate of congestion, the prisons inmates are also bedeviled with inadequate education and skills training opportunities. Studies on social reintegration of offenders and recidivism in Ghana indicates that about 24% of ex-offenders recidivate over and again, a scenario Antwi (2015) attributes to social and institutional push and pull factors. Antwi, maintains that institutional push factors stem from the fact that penal policies in Ghana mainly focus on custody, deterrence and retribution rather than rehabilitation. Again, most rehabilitation interventions by the Government and stakeholders are usually face-to-face training with limited spaces, thereby denying a majority of inmates access to acquire new skills for their personal development.
Owusu-Mensah (2020) on the study of the Use of Open and Distance Learning for Correctional Education, revealed that prisoners in the Nsawam Medium Security Prison in Ghana underscored the benefits of Open Distance Learning mediums as opportunities to develop knowledge and skills towards their reintegration into society. Majority of inmates interviewed in this study, had good knowledge of distance learning, and expressed the desire for the government to deploy such learning methods for their personal development. The study further suggests that distance education can be a valuable tool for personal development and rehabilitation within prisons and correctional facilities.
Other studies on correctional education and society reentry programs for prison inmates conducted by the Institute of Museum and Library Services at the Orleans Parish Prison, New Orleans, USA, have emphasized the importance of correctional education in enhancing the post-release employment prospects. A key challenge in the criminal justice system in many jurisdictions is its inability to reduce recidivism – the tendency of released prisoners to reoffend and end up again in incarceration. Technology-infused education, particularly digital learning can potentially address this by equipping inmates with skills and knowledge that improve their chances of finding gainful employment. Traditional in-person teaching methods may not be effective for all individuals in time and space, therefore digital learning with its inherent flexibility and adaptability, may provide a more accommodating environment for inmates to engage with educational materials.
Challenges and recommendation of Technology-infused Correctional Education Systems
The use of digital technology in correctional education can be highly beneficial. However, there may be many challenges associated with it. Below are some ideas that could be factored into policies and practices related to technology-infused correctional education programmes:
- Access to Technology & Security Measures – it is important to ensure equitable access to technology for all incarcerated individuals, regardless of their security level or location within prisons and correctional facilities. However, to prevent technology misuse and abuse, stakeholders must develop policies and programmes that facilitate learning with utmost security at technology centers or computer labs within prisons and correctional facilities. To prevent the abuse of technology and minimize the risk of inmates accessing harmful information online, restrictive measures such as: limiting internet access to educational content; monitoring devise usage; and blocking social media and other distracting or potentially harmful websites could be instituted as control measures in correctional education. The use of evidence-based educational software and platforms tailored to the learning needs of incarcerated populations could be encouraged to promote digital transformation in correctional education.
- Capacity Building and Support – Continuous Professional Development and technical support for both instructors and incarcerated professionals are essential in ensuring that they stay up to date in developments within their profession and are able to use technology effectively for educational purposes. Regular assessment and continuous rethinking of these strategies and processes can help maximize the benefits of technology while ensuring safety and security.
- Reentry Preparations – the use of technology can help incarcerated individuals build certified vocational skills to enable them to find better job opportunities, and access resources for a successful reentry into society. Government and stakeholders must therefore be intentional in harnessing resources to pursue this rather highly complex and beneficial development agenda.
Addressing technology challenges in correctional education must be an ongoing process that requires a coordinated effort from multiple stakeholders, including governments, correctional authorities, education service providers, departments of social welfare, technology companies, and philanthropic organizations. It is important to adapt strategies to the specific context and needs of the incarcerated population in dealing with correctional education and technology use, and not solely emphasizing retribution but also rehabilitation.
It is important for governments and relevant stakeholders to leverage digital transformation by prioritizing rehabilitation efforts of prison inmates; allocate adequate funding to ensure that prison inmates have access to quality education, vocational training, and support services in the digital space. The Criminal Justice system must reduce the focus from punishment to rehabilitation to achieve the broader societal goal of reducing recidivism and bridging digital inequity gaps. No one must be left behind in the digital transformation for sustainable development.
- Antwi, A. (2015). Social reintegration of offenders and recidivism in Ghana. Unpublished Doctoral Thesis, University of Ghana, Legon.
- Eugenia Zivanai & Gilbert Mahlangu (2022) Digital prison rehabilitation and successful re-entry into a digital society: A systematic literature review on the new reality on prison rehabilitation, Cogent Social Sciences, 8:1, DOI: 10.1080/23311886.2022.2116809
- GoG [Government of Ghana] (2019). Education Strategic Plan 2018 – 2030, Accra, Ghana. Ministry of Education. Retrieved from http://moe.gov.gh/edge/content/uploads/2019/05/Education-Strategic Plan-2018-2030.pdf
- Owusu-Mensah F. (2020) The Use Of Open and Distance Learning for Correctional Education: The Views of Prison Inmates Of Nsawam Medium Security Prison (Nmsp), Ghana , British Journal of Education, Vol 8, Issue 5, pp 58-68.
- Petersilia, J. (2003). When prisoners come home: parole and prisoner reentry. New York: Oxford University Press.
- U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, Integrating Education and Training in Young Adult Diversion Programs: Technical Assistance Brief, Washington, D.C., 2022.