DOJ to Spend $750K Training 'High-Risk' Inmates in Technology

February 27, 2014 - 5:14 PM

Inmates Graduation

In this Dec. 13, 2013 photo, a group of inmates at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, Tenn., walk across the prison yard to get dressed for their graduation ceremony. The women earned an associates degree through Lipscomb University in a program created just for them. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

(CNSNews.com) – The Justice Department is planning to spend $750,000 to train "medium to high-risk" incarcerated adults and juveniles in the technology field.

According to the grant solicitation, "the target population must include medium to high-risk offenders as identified using a validated assessment tool. 'High-risk offenders' are defined as individuals that score moderate to high risk based on a validated risk assessment tool."

"'Risk' is defined as the likelihood that a person will re-offend upon release from a facility. Applicants must identify the validated assessment tool used and the risk levels eligible for participation in the program," it added.

Examples of technology-based fields are: computer-assisted design in engineering and construction, information technology development and design, 'green technology'-related projects, wireless and broadband deployment, computer science and programming, and engineering technology fields.

The program will be funded under the Second Chance Act of 2007 to "help ensure that the transition individuals make from prison and jail to the community is successful and promotes public safety."

According to the Bureau of Justice Assistance, inmates will not have access to sensitive materials, but it told CNSNews.com that it is "certainly possible" that "white collar" offenders will take part in the program.

"Are there restrictions on the types of offenders that can participate? Can someone who has committed white collar crime (for example, hacking, bank fraud, blackmail, money laundering) take part in the program?" CNSNews.com asked.

"It is certainly possible that some 'white collar' offenders would be selected for the program. BJA does not place any restrictions on the type of offense," the Bureau of Justice Assistance wrote in an emailed response.

Offenders selected for the program must be within six to 18 months of their release date and will be screened by validated risk/needs assessment." Grant recipients are also required to restrict prioner access to the Internet "to ensure public safety."

CNSNews.com also asked DOJ what steps will be taken to ensure that "white-collar" criminals do not commit cybercrime using the training they received from this program.

"Please note that it is a mandatory requirement of the program that grantees restrict access to the Internet by incarcerated persons, as appropriate, to ensure public safety. The technology training programs vary," the Bureau of Justice Assistance wrote in an emailed response.

"Once an offender has completed training behind the walls and is released on parole or by service of sentence no one can guarantee that he/she will continue to behave in a law-abiding fashion, but it is the hope that as a result of enhanced technology training which results in placement of the individual in a job which allows him/her to earn a 'living wage' that this will deter further criminal behavior and reduce recidivism," it added.

"Also, the material said the target population is high-risk offenders. Does that mean that sex offenders are allowed to take part in the program?" CNSNews.com asked.

"The terminology 'high risk offender' refers to the likelihood that the individual will reoffend, not the type of offense.  The states and localities seeking funding for these programs can define participant exclusions including based on offense type.  BJA will evaluate proposals for the strength of their program designs, based on evidence of what works with the offender population jurisdictions intend to serve," BJA responded.

"How is this an effective use of taxpayer funds?" CNSNews.com asked the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

"Programs funded under the Second Chance Act are aimed at reducing recidivism. The significant cost of incarceration is offset by programs which serve to provide evidenced-based services which enhance successful reentry and reduce the costs to taxpayers associated with incarceration," BJA responded by email.

"The recently released RAND report which consisted of a two and one-half year comprehensive study of the effectiveness of correctional education programs found that offenders who participated in educational and vocational programs behind the walls were 13% less likely to return to prison and 13% more likely to obtain a job upon release," it said.

"The RAND report, which also included a survey of all 50 state departments of corrections found  very strong support among both correctional administrators and directors of correctional education for enhanced technology training for offenders to allow them to more effectively navigate the technology-based environment they will be released into," BJA added.

"Programs funded under this program will be developed at the state and local level and they will be designing programs that meet their offender population needs. All applications submitted for funding under this solicitation/program will be peer reviewed by external subject matter experts and BJA will fund the most competitive programs based on application of evidence-based practices," BJA concluded.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance plans to award up to 10 grant of up to $750,000 each for a 12-month period beginning Oct. 1, 2014. It acknowledges however that recruitment and service delivery could extend past one year "and that projects will receive no-cost extensions."

The grant was announced on Jan. 13, 2014. The closing date for applications is March 17, 2014.