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Building Digital Programming to Support Second Chances

By: Katherine Bates and Michell Morton

This April, the Biden-Harris Administration recognizes Second Chance Month as an opportunity to ensure that people returning to their communities from jail or prison have a fair shot at the American Dream.

Research shows that incarcerated and recently released individuals face unique and far-reaching challenges, particularly when pursuing education and employment opportunities. Access to affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet service, combined with the skills to use it, can help bridge the gap.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law recognizes incarcerated individuals confront barriers to digital equity. These barriers can include lack of specialized resources, limited access to devices, and environmental obstacles (such as the rural location of the facility) that drives a lack of access to services.

Achieving digital equity is pivotal in breaking the cycle of recidivism. Through educational, vocational, and digital literacy programs within correctional facilities, individuals can be equipped with the tools and skills needed for success, fostering a sense of purpose and hope for a brighter future.

In recognition of Second Chance Month, NTIA hosted a public webinar on April 25, 2024, “The Impact of High-Speed Internet Access on Incarcerated and Justice-Impacted Individuals.” This webinar is an outgrowth of the work of the Digital Equity Leaders Network (DELN) – a group of state and local government leaders that share best practices, resources, and strategies to help bridge the nation’s digital divide, convened and supported by NTIA. This is the first of a series of DELN public webinars on the Covered Populations in 2024.

2 million

The number of currently incarcerated individuals in the U.S.


The number of individuals released from federal and state prisons annually in the U.S.


The number of formerly incarcerated individuals arrested within three years of release, highlighting the urgent need for effective reentry programs.


Participation in correctional education programs shown to reduce odds of recidivism by 43%.

This webinar highlighted how state and local leaders in this space are creating educational and economic development opportunities for incarcerated and recently released individuals. The webinar will also share how these efforts are part of successful re-entry programs and provide valuable insights into lessons learned.  

The webinar on April 25 focused on:

Enabling Expanded Learning

Jennifer Sanders is the Superintendent of Schools at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC) Ohio Central School System. Each day, she dedicates herself to ensuring that incarcerated individuals in Ohio receive the training they need to be successful and contribute to their communities. Recidivism is reduced when prison education is a priority, so, providing dedicated programs for modern careers can set students up for success following their release. ODRC demonstrated its commitment to student success by providing 10,000 Chromebooks to incarcerated individuals. These Chromebooks allowed for remote learning (especially during the pandemic), flexibility for students to learn at their own pace, and better access to workforce development resources.

Assessing the Technology Landscape to Maximize Budget

Technology availability determines individuals’ opportunities to access academic resources and services while incarcerated. Digital literacy enables individuals to access economic opportunities and navigate daily life following release from prison. Stacy Lyn Burnett serves as Senior Product Manager for Ithaka S+R, a nonprofit that focuses its research on the obstacles people face that prevent them from obtaining a quality postsecondary education.  These obstacles include, for example, a lack of academic materials, library resources, technology, space for classroom instruction and Internet access. Ithaka S+R focuses on how research into advancement of equitable and high-quality education in prisons and jails can reduce recidivism and enable individuals to reenter society with the skills and knowledge to lead better lives.

Highlights from the last DELN meeting include:  

Adopting Security Measures

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections Division of Adult Institutions (DOAI) employs technology for treatment and education programming designed to equip returning individuals with the digital skills they need to succeed. DOAI Education Director Ben Jones understands that some correctional staff and members of the public are wary of expanding Internet access inside of correctional facilities. DOAI balances these security concerns with the needs of the students to develop digital skills. By providing specialized tablets with a limited scope, DOAI ensures students have access to necessary information while implementing diverse security measures to address like firewalls and content moderation.

Building the Technology Workforce Pipeline

In Louisiana, education, corrections, and industry stakeholders partner to offer an in-demand credential to give returning individuals fresh starts in new careers as fiber optics technicians. The Bossier Parish Community College offers courses at the Louisiana Department of Corrections’ Northwest Regional Re-entry Program at Caddo Correctional Center. Program graduates earn two industry-recognized credentials from the Fiber Optic Association, giving them a valuable leg up in a high-demand career field. Upon re-entry, graduates will be certified to build out high speed Internet networks in unserved and underserved communities across Louisiana.

Why It Matters

Whether it is starting a new career, obtaining a degree or certification, or navigating legal systems, digital literacy is critical to engaging in today’s increasingly connected world. By leveraging technology and addressing the unique needs of incarcerated individuals, states, local governments, and non-profit organizations can provide opportunities that benefit both those who have served their time and the broader community. Digital literacy and skills can further empower these individuals to rebuild their lives after they return to their communities, giving them a new beginning and a second chance.

Ultimately, investing in reentry programs that prioritize digital equity and empowerment leads to safer, happier, and healthier communities for all.  

To learn more about DELN’s efforts to advance digital equity, visit the BroadbandUSA Digital Equity Act Programs webpage or contact