20 May 2021

Creating an Alternative - A tech-based Ecosystem

Guest blog: Joanne Vance, CEO and founder of New Beginnings North as part of our #DigitalJustice2021 week

Recidivism has resisted the traditional deconstructive approach that the government and other large organisations have traditionally deployed in the hope of gaining better overall outcomes. Reducing recidivism is achievable - broadly and successfully applying ecosystem and technology-based approaches will have significant impact, which whilst challenging, can be achieved. 

Recently released prisoners face numerous obstacles on their reintegration journey. They are expected to: secure housing, employment and identification; access neurodiversity, mental health and substance misuse support; secure education and/or training and access probation services. If unsuccessful the resulting outcome, for many, is re-entry to custody.

No single organisation intends to put barriers up, but with such a diverse set of organisations involved with the resettlement of a prisoner, each working in silos, they appear as obstacles as opposed to the support network they should be. The recently released prisoner, and their families, must navigate interactions with these disjointed parties to be successful in their reintegration. However, with potential unidentified and underlying needs not met, both prior to custody and whilst in prison, the released prisoner and their family have not the capabilities, nor are prepared to take this navigational task on alone.

To stop the cycle of reoffending a technology-based, ecological approach will create, scale, support and integrate services in ways that are far beyond the capacity of any single organisation. Diversity and a collective ability to integrate, learn, adapt, and innovate together are the key determinants of both longer-term success for the ecosystem, and the seamless and successful transition, of the prisoner, from custody to community - a blueprint for reducing reoffending.

To ensure its quality an ecosystem should be built with cultural due diligence - the right people within the organisations engaging in daily interaction within the ecosystem; valuing transparency, honesty, flexibility and trust as the foundations of a cross-collaboration. Understanding that each organisation has their own performance indicators in addition to  shared goals will enable the development of an internal growth and innovation shared economy platform that will provide the ecosystem with the capabilities and capacity to continuously develop and implement the project. The platform should become a framework to support the overall system in terms of value creation and capture and through it organisations will meticulously construct a distinctive, collaborative infrastructure that will enable people to work together across organisational and geographical boundaries, providing significant contributions to practice and theory alike.

An ecosystem approach to recidivism should coordinate multiple, diverse organisations, who are key to reducing reoffending; working collaboratively with highly experienced organisations to provide the released prisoner and their families with a long term home, employment, access to education and training, access to 21st Century technology, and access to mental and physical health services, probation services, financial services, restorative justice services and family services.

The pandemic has brought with it a complete paradigm shift in the way that organisations operate and serve their members - there is an increased emphasis on the digital experience. Virtual Reality (VR) could, and indeed should be utilised to place custodial service users in specially-created virtual worlds of holistic education, training and employment and housing to provide them with an immersive, meaningful and emotive rehabilitative experience; technology is the catalyst for change in life-long learning and learning has a significant impact on reducing reoffending. Utilising VR to deliver the combined services of the organisations within an ecosystem ensures that provision can always be delivered, remotely if necessary, and also that service users, upon release, will become familiar with, and can effectively integrate into, today’s world.

This transformative and unique model can be used for public policy challenges such as unsuccessful reducing reoffending programmes. An integrated approach to recidivism moves beyond just examining re-entry policies, to exploring its role within the ecosystem of agencies, businesses, and society overall. An integrative perspective will examine and explore how components relevant to the reoffending ecosystem play a role in creating barriers and fostering success. Harnessing the power of mixed reality (XR) technology will invest in the long-term health of an ecosystem; by connecting effectively and efficiently with communities and ecosystems across different fields and domains of knowledge will enable learning, growth and co-creation to gain the most sustainable and influential benefits resulting in a significant reduction in recidivism.

About Joanne

Joanne Vance is CEO and founder of New Beginnings North, a new social enterprise, ecological company based in the North East of England, utilising VR to provide an innovative and unique pathway to reducing reoffending. Joanne is a highly successful professional educator who has produced outstanding outcomes for colleagues and learners within a variety of educational settings and formal organisations. Joanne’s wealth of experience offers a unique approach to learning - specifically, strategic management, entrepreneurship and leadership. Joanne is passionate about social justice and the role that holistic education can play in effective rehabilitation and resolving societal challenges.