The question of digital access for incarcerated individuals has been long debated. To keep inmates and staff safe, the corrections system prioritizes safety and healthcare and is risk-averse. While it has been deemed a human right, access to technology for inmates has been seen to have many potential risks.
However, mostly everyone who is currently incarcerated will be released back into society and without access to digital learning, they will do so with grossly outdated tech skills. Access to digital skills to keep pace with the changing world prepares them to enter society and the workforce ready to communicate and work in the way that people in the 21st century do. There are many who are advocating for change and leading the way in providing safe and secure access to digital learning within the correctional system. Good Learning Anywhere was fortunate to partner up with just such a group.
What is the GLA Corrections Program?
Our program is the first of its kind in a Federal Correctional Institution, aimed at providing access to digital adult literacy courses to inmates. The program utilizes an internal secure Learning Management System (LMS) developed by the Correctional Services Canada (Ontario) (CSC (ON)) education staff. The courses available in the program are micro-credentials developed by Sioux-Hudson Literacy Council’s Good Learning Anywhere (SHLC-GLA) program, which serves as the Indigenous Stream Lead for Ontario’s e-Channel program, offering adult literacy courses to adults across the province.
The content of the courses is determined collaboratively by the CSC (ON) staff and SHLC-GLA, ensuring its relevance to the inmates. Currently, there are 50+ courses available on the CSC (ON) LMS, covering a wide range of topics. These courses have been developed by SHLC-GLA and modified by CSC (ON) staff. Some examples of the courses offered include AZ/DZ: Explore a Career in Commercial Truck Driving, Explore Careers in Construction, Indigenous Peoples of Canada, Anishinaabemowin Basics, Four Directions Parenting, Mental Wellness, Smart About Money: Spending & Saving, and Numeracy at Work.
The program encourages self-directed learning, allowing inmates to choose which courses they would like to take. With the support of their onsite teachers, the inmates engage in digital learning within the secure Learning Management System, completing the courses independently. The duration of the courses ranges from 10 to 25 hours, providing a flexible learning experience for the inmates. Additionally, as part of our efforts to simulate a LIVE learning environment, we have piloted one recorded “LIVE” class, preparing the inmates for potential future experiences upon their release into the community.
Awards and Grants
2023 Canada Life Literacy Innovation Award Winner
2023 Peter Gzowski Foundation for Literacy Grant Recipient
As of October 2023:
50+ courses offered
1,100+ clients enrolled
5,000+ certificates of completion issued
7 facilities in Ontario
How does this program improve the lives of participants?
This program serves inmates currently incarcerated in Federal institutions in Ontario, with a pilot expansion to the Atlantic region. Its primary aim is to provide access to online Adult Literacy Skills courses to these individuals. By offering reproducible online courses, the program can be implemented in any institution, including the most challenging environments of corrections facilities.
The program improves the lives of participants in several ways. First and foremost, it breaks down barriers to education and skill development by overcoming challenges related to onsite access, such as security, staffing, and limited classroom space.
With digital courses, participants can regularly access the program, allowing them to engage in learning and access community services while incarcerated.
The digital learning aspect is particularly important in 2023, as most jobs now require digital skills. By providing inmates with access to digital literacy training, the program equips them with the necessary skills for the modern job market. Additionally, it helps them develop essential life skills, such as navigating medical appointments, renewing government IDs, and filling out rental applications.
Incarcerated individuals often struggle with issues such as low self-esteem and limited life skills. The program not only imparts knowledge but also encourages personal development, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.
The program has already seen success in terms of post-release engagement. Released inmates have reached out to the program once in the community, indicating a continued desire for learning and personal growth. By offering access to digital learning before release, the program prepares individuals for successful reintegration into society. When inmates are equipped with education and skills, they are less likely to re-offend, contributing to a safer community for everyone.
Furthermore, the program has a positive impact on the lives of education staff within the correctional institution. Through a partnership with an experienced Indigenous Literacy Program, the program offers courses that attract learners who were previously hard to reach. This includes providing cultural content and encouraging digital learning among inmates who may have been resistant to it in the past.
Why did we create this program and why is it important?
SHLC-GLA has been working on trying to find innovative ways to provide digital learning opportunities in corrections over the last 5+ years. Our organizations were introduced through a mutual colleague. Correctional Services Canada (ON) was piloting an internal Learning Management System and was looking for content. We met to address the existing gaps in adult literacy courses and Indigenous content within the institution’s current content offerings. By partnering with SHLC-GLA and hosting their courses on an internal, secure digital Learning Management System, CSC (ON) aimed to bridge this gap and meet the community’s educational needs.
The program’s launch in August 2022 marked a significant milestone as it became the first known project to enable individuals in the Federal corrections system in Ontario to access digital programs from community partners.
By filling the gap in adult literacy courses and Indigenous content, this program addresses the educational needs of individuals within the Federal Corrections system. It empowers incarcerated individuals with valuable skills, knowledge, and certifications that can contribute to their personal growth, rehabilitation, and successful reintegration into society upon release.
Research consistently shows that education reduces the likelihood of reoffending. By providing access to quality educational opportunities, we aim to equip inmates with the tools they need to rebuild their lives and become productive members of society upon release.
Overall, the collaboration between our organization and Correctional Services Canada (ON) aims to provide innovative and inclusive educational opportunities that meet the community’s need for accessible, comprehensive, and culturally relevant learning resources within the corrections system.
Partnership is key to the success of this program
The key partner with SHLC-GLA is the Correctional Services Canada (ON) team. This team consists of dedicated staff members who are passionate about providing access to digital learning for offenders and developing innovative methods to achieve this goal.
Together with the CSC (ON) team, we collaborate on determining the course content and creating a streamlined process to make our SHLC-GLA courses available on their Learning Management System. The Learning Management System employed by the corrections facility has been thoroughly reviewed and approved for use within the facility. We provide the course content as digital files from our own system.
The CSC (ON) staff then take these files and ensure compatibility with the Learning Management System, as there are restrictions on linking to external sources. They modify and test the learning content to ensure its seamless integration within the system. In this process, a team of inmates who have acquired coding skills through a work program within the facility supports the staff in modifying and testing the digital content.
Teachers within the institutions play a crucial role in the partnership. They support the registration of the clients with SHLC-GLA and provide ongoing support, including any technical assistance the clients may require during the learning process. Upon successful completion of the courses, SHLC-GLA issues certificates, which are then sent back to the CSC (ON) staff. The staff is responsible for distributing these certificates to the inmates, acknowledging their achievements.
This collaborative effort between our organization, the CSC (ON) team, and the teachers aims to facilitate digital learning opportunities within the corrections facility, promoting education and skill development among the inmates.
How is this program unique and innovative?
Good Learning Anywhere (Corrections), is unique and innovative in several ways. Some of the features include a custom-tailored curriculum, flexible delivery, built on partnerships, and it provides reentry support for inmates.
It introduces digital learning with a community partner in Federal Institutions, which has never been done before. As far as we know, no provincial corrections institution has implemented such a program in this capacity. By providing reliable access to relevant adult literacy courses to incarcerated individuals who will soon be released into the community, our program addresses a critical need and empowers these individuals with essential skills for successful reintegration.
The importance of our program lies in its ability to demonstrate the successful collaboration between corrections, and community agencies. By working together, we can safely provide digital learning opportunities to inmates.
The program’s replicability is another significant aspect, as it can be implemented in multiple institutions and with various community partners. Not limited to a single community partner, our program can incorporate other learning organizations thereby expanding the range of learning opportunities available.
Our program also tackles the challenges faced by community organizations working with correctional institutions. These challenges include security, privacy, staffing issues, and a lack of programming space. Good Learning Anywhere (Corrections) is successfully demonstrating that it is possible to overcome these challenges, develop effective processes, and encourage more agencies to include digital educational initiatives when working with correctional partners.
Our program is important because it addresses a critical need, empowers incarcerated individuals with essential skills, and paves the way for more inclusive and effective digital educational initiatives within correctional institutions.
Learners’ Stories as reported by CSC:
“There is an Indigenous offender who had been in the centre for 10 years and the staff had never been able to engage him in any education during his time there. He had heard about the GLA programs through word of mouth from other clients and came in and told the staff if they could get him into the 4 Directions Parenting Course he would come.”
“One learner had actually started with us almost 6 years ago. Over the first 5 years we got him from around a grade 4 level to getting his OSSD. Although this is a success, it would be a stretch to say that he really enjoyed his time in school with us. He was often frustrated by classes and we really worked at keeping him engaged, attending, etc. Almost a year after graduating, he had heard about the Numeracy courses that teach math specific to trades, and on his own came to the school to ask about them. He tried the first and loved it. He ended up taking all 5! He is getting released soon and plans to get into the trades and even after getting his OSSD knows math isn’t a strength of his, so wanted to work on those skills. He specifically mentioned to me that he ‘liked learning this way’ and that it made the math ‘real’.”
Good Learning Anywhere’s corrections program represents a beacon of hope and opportunity for incarcerated individuals to improve their digital literacy skills. By addressing educational gaps, promoting personal growth, and reducing recidivism rates, this innovative initiative not only transforms the lives of inmates but also contributes to a safer and more inclusive society. Through strategic partnerships, we continue to work with the CSC Education staff to provide inmates with access to learn 21st-century skills.
For more information about this program please contact Linda Wright (email@example.com).
Corrections LMS in the news:
Sioux Lookout Bulletin Sep 2023
ABC Life Literacy Sep 2023
CKDR Sept 2023
Dryden Now Sep 2023
St. Lawrence College Website