Well behaved lags are being allowed to escape prison on fantasy getaways – using virtual reality headsets.
The scheme rewards good behaviour with 10-minute “holidays” to destinations including the Great Wall of China, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and Inca ruins in Peru.
The move comes as jail bosses tackle record levels of violence and drug abuse.
One of the first inmates to use the sets said: “I’ve been in jail 12 years and today has been one of the best days. I haven’t felt like a prisoner today.”
A source told the People: “Governors are being encouraged to try all sorts of ways to improve behaviour. This is a bold move but it is seen as worth a go.
“If it’s a success it could be rolled out.”
Andrew Neilson, of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the jail “should be applauded for its imaginative methods”.
But he added: “Until our overcrowded and violent prisons see a sensible reduction in how many people are held, most people will get worse and not better.
“That means more crime and more victims of crime.”
And victims’ rights campaigner Harry Fletcher added: “The real problem is the auto-release system where they get out after half their sentence, well-behaved or not.
“The solution to that is political. But victims will be astonished and insulted that they are being
rewarded with VR goggles.”
Despite the criticism, category B HMP Nottingham, which houses 1,060, expects the two-month pilot to be a success and says it gives lags the chance to “experience culture in another country”.
One prisoner said: “People will be keen, knowing for 10 minutes they can experience another country in VR. It takes your mind away for 10 minutes.”
Other programmes could give workplace experience –letting them visit a VR construction site, for instance.
The sets can cost around £500 a pair but the Prison Service got them for free for the trial. A lucrative contract to supply the entire jail estate could follow.
The scheme comes as violence in jails in England and Wales is at an all-time high with 33,803 attacks by lags in the year to the end of September 2018 – up 20% on 2017. Of these, a record 10,085 were on prison staff, a rise of 29%.
HMP Nottingham said: “We’re piloting VR as part of our safety strategy. The concept links learning experiences and fun activities during their downtime.
Initial feedback has been powerful.”
The Prison Service added: “HMP Nottingham is trialling three headsets for well-behaved prisoners in workshops and education courses. These were donated at no cost and do not allow games.”
The Nottingham scheme follows a pilot in Colorado two years ago, which taught lags skills like doing laundry and food shopping to prepare for release. They used Vive systems, made by Taiwan’s HTC, priced at £1,299 in the UK for a full kit.
Jail bosses build railyard to help lags land jobs on outside
Lags were chuffed when jail bosses installed a mini railyard to help them land jobs on the outside.
A dozen inmates at HMP Stafford completed a 10-week track laying course and will have work lined up for when they are released.
The course was described as “hard graft” but they all passed with flying colours.
Lack of employment opportunities upon release is cited as one of the key factors in re-offending.