The network behind bars

Correctional institutions in Manitoba may soon be using an educational network designed by two EDS Canada employees as a rehabilitation tool.

Headingley Correctional Centre is a prison outside of Winnipeg that houses about 400 inmates who are serving terms of two years less a day, says EDS

Canada client services manager Ryun Truman. Truman, together with EDS Canada technical engineer Bert Tempel, developed a secure LAN the correctional institution uses to deliever educational programs to its inmates, who are minor offence criminals.

Trevor Markesteyn, who is responsible for the organization’s rehabilitation and education program, said he wanted to offer the inmates a computing environment to enhance their education, including the use of a computer as well as reading and writing skills. The average educational level of an inmate is grade six and the average age is 24.

Markesteyn had received hardware through government assistance programs and had set up a network within the facility, but was frustrated by antiquated computers and network outages that made it difficult to use the technology as teaching tools.

“”It crashed constantly,”” Markesteyn says. “”Everything was flaky, the whole system was unstable and security was a major problem. That’s when I met Ryun Truman. He offered to make us a smart server and we could have all of our terminals be dumb. It wouldn’t matter that were working on 386s and 486s.””

Truman used Windows server technology to build a mainframe type of enviroment, which allowed for a much more secure system and meant correctional officers didn’t have to worry about critical data being destroyed should the inmates damage one of the terminals, Markesteyn says.

“”All of the information was now contained on the main server, which helped with the issues of security,”” Markesteyn says. “”We had to make sure that nobody could crack into this system but at the same time that our administrator could issue passwords and that the information on the system would be secure, usable and friendly.””

The effort was also significantly helped by software license donations from Microsoft and a Hewlett-Packard donation of a $5,000 laser printer, Truman says.

Currently about half of the Headingley inmates have signed up for accounts on the Headlingley Educational Network, which allows them access to learning materials, word processing programs and career development tools.

Because of security concerns there are no e-mail or messenging services on any of the 15 terminals on the HEN, Truman says.

“”Gang communications are the main concern for them, so what we’ve also done is the floppy drives are physically unplugged, so that they can’t share messages and (other information) via disc,”” Truman says.

Truman and Tempel have logged close to a 1,000 hours of volunteer work on this project and endured some ribbing from collegues who couldn’t pass up the chance to joke about the two going off to jail.

“”This was just the right thing to do,”” Truman says. “”We have the skills and we have the knowledge. And if you have the skills and the knowledge you should just share it — it’s selfish not to do that,”” he says.

Truman and Tempel are both still involved in the project, providing network support for the facility and are looking at introducing this type of network to three other correctional centres around Winnipeg.

“”What we want to do is centrally stage it, ship it and they plug it in and it works,”” Truman says. “”The goal was to try it here, try to quantify some kind of results and the Justice Department would pursue doing it elsewhere. It’s kind of a test site.””

Markesteyn says he intends to expand the network inside the Headingly Correctional Centre in response to ever-growing inmate interest. Headingly also has a computer refurbishing program which trains inmates to an A+ certification, running independently of the HEN project.

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