Codez Academy Blog

Prisoners Learning to Code

dean jenkins - Thursday, April 14, 2016

Since 2014, as part of The Last Mile initiative, inmates of California's most notorious prison, San Quentin, have been taking part in Code.7370 – learning to code and develop front-end web development skills. Supported by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and CalPIA, the inmates will learn to code in CSS, HTML, Javascript and Python with the end goal that they have a real tangible opportunity to gain employment once they have completed their sentences.

As with the UK's looming skills shortage in the digital sector, the US is also facing a skills gap of upwards of a million vacancies by 2020. Chris Redlitz, founder of the scheme and of The Last Mile writes on his website 'The TLM “returned graduates” will be positioned well to leverage this opportunity and support our mission to reduce recidivism by attaining gainful employment.

While evidence is mixed due to containing a large number of environmental and health factors, there is still positive evidence that given an effective support package that addresses all of these issues, ex-offenders that gain employment following release are less likely to re-offend. For example, Chris Redlitz points towards the receptiveness and enthusiasm shown by the TLM students he has trained, and testimonials on the website indicate that the inmates gratefully receive the opportunity to improve their lives and have something to look forwards to upon release. 

The scheme has shown promise; one inmate, James Houston, has built a company named Teen Tech Hub to help at-risk children in his old neighbourhood by providing a safe place for them to go after school and learn useful skills about tech and coding. James is now serving the local community of Richmond, California, having been hired by the local council to launch his scheme this year. 

So could this benefit inmates and ex-offenders in the UK? Of course the prison system in the UK is different to that in the US and differences in socio-economic elements must be considered, but with such rewarding prospects ever-growing in the digital industry, an obvious supply and demand can be filled. This benefits the ex-offenders in that they will earn a skill that will supply them with a fulfilling career and allows them to contribute back to society, and the economy will benefit from a supply of freshly skilled digital and tech employees. It makes sense. By giving it a go not only do we offer a non-stigmatised opportunity for ex-offenders to have a second chance, but it will give us valuable data to consider effective rehabilitation schemes. 

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