Making the connection

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It costs Australian taxpayers around $105,000 to accommodate one prisoner for one year. With incarceration rates soaring to record levels, that equates to over $3.17 billion each year.

USQ has been working with institutions and government agencies across all States and Territories to deliver modified higher education programs to incarcerated students with benefits to all and ultimately, the Australian economy.

Education, particularly post-secondary education, can reduce the risk of reoffending by 40%.
RAND, 2013

Since its early beginnings as a tertiary education provider, USQ has been a leader in the provision of distance and online study and had been working with correctional institutions for nearly 30 years. USQ’s Open Access College has been delivering preparatory-style programs to prisoners, to enable them to pursue higher education goals, before and after release.

USQ's Making the Connection program has seen the percentage of eligible prisoners engaged with tertiary education in Queensland double.

With the advent of the age of technology, a different set of challenges emerged for correctional officers. As the internet became more embedded within day-to-day life, so too it became integral to learning. Students today are required to have access to computers and online learning environments. Because prisoners are prohibited from accessing the internet, they are precluded from participating in higher education.

Understanding the challenges imposed by the technological boom and the move away from traditional learning materials, USQ was well-positioned to develop an innovative education model to service a disadvantaged cohort – the incarcerated student.

USQ is the largest provider of Higher Education into correctional centres in Australia.

Offering five programs under the Making the Connection research program, USQ is engaging adult incarcerated learners. As a result, the percentage of eligible prisoners engaged with tertiary education in Queensland has doubled. Over the last three years alone, the number of Indigenous prisoners participating in the program has grown to 3.1%, which is 2.5 times the Australian national average. Making the Connection is funded under the Australian government's Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program.

How? By bringing the simulated online study environment inside the prison walls. USQ researchers have developed sophisticated, secure learning platforms and introduced notebook computers and on-site servers to house the learning materials. This has equipped Correctional Educational Officers with the tools needed to encourage and guide the learning of prisoners, in a secure way.

Over the last five years, USQ’s research project has attracted 1500 course enrolments with an average student retention rate of 76%.

The technologies and programs have been deployed in a range of settings from women’s prisons, to prison farms and work camps in the Northern Territory. Not only is the program enhancing the employability prospects of offenders but they are also developing higher cognitive skills and greater resilience; contributing factors it’s suggested, to arresting the risk of reoffending.

The insights and results received from this research initiative are now being assessed for the potential to roll out an adaptive model in isolated rural and remote communities that have little or no internet access.

USQ continues to redefine higher education as it honours its record of distance education and forges ahead with innovative ways of making a connection through learning.

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Phone +61 7 4631 1738 
Email DigitalLifeLab@usq.edu.au