More penal system decision-makers are experimenting with training programs that reduce recidivism and supply talent for woefully understaffed technology fields.
Companies already have problems meeting the demand for skilled technical talent, and analysts forecast that the need for computer programmers will grow by 27% by the year 2024, according to an A&E expose. By teaching prisoners to code, some penal institutions are giving individuals a second shot at life, while at the same time helping enterprises fill the ever-increasing talent gap.
This new form of intervention may reduce – or even eliminate – the nearly 80% recidivism rate among convicted criminals.
More Prisons Are Leveraging Education to Reduce Incarceration
Until 2014, California prisoners – like most inmates in the U.S. – were limited to taking correspondence courses. Now, California is the first state to offer on-site, teacher-led training in nearly all its prisons.
In the first year, college enrollment among California inmates surged from close to 5,000 to over 13,000 students, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. In 2014, there were no prisoners attending community college. In 2017, however, approximately 4,500 prisoners enrolled in California community colleges using state-sponsored financial aid.
A few other states do provide teacher-led education for inmates. However, California is the only state to offer this type of instruction in nearly every prison. Teachers from local colleges lead the lessons, and the credits that inmates earn count toward a real degree.
The face-to-face aspect of the program makes a big difference. Furthermore, instructor-led, college-level classes enable inmates to learn critical thinking skills in a way that’s not possible with correspondence learning
Data vs. Detention: The Case for Training Prisoners in Computer Science
By training prisoners on how to use high-demand data analytics toolsH and coding programs through the Last Mile program, the California penal system offers inmates marketable skills, rather than training that will prove obsolete by the time they are released. The teacher-led, face-to-face courses challenge inmates more so than classes such as general maintenance or furniture making. Advocates for inmate education express that the benefits of the program are that inmates will leave the penal system with in-demand skills and the ability to earn a living wage.
The primary objective of the Last Mile program is to help inmates find gainful employment and avoid recidivism. The director of the program at San Quentin prison says the courses appeal to inmates because they are challenging, and the training prepares them to work in a cutting-edge field upon release.
The Last Mile program prepares inmates for work in an expanding market. Some prisoners even participate in on-the-job training doing work for paying clients. Typically, inmates receive $0.20-$0.80 to create items such as license plates and furniture. Through the program, however, students earn the market rate for their services while working for private clients.
The work enables inmates to save money before they’re released and build a portfolio that highlights their technical skills. So far, approximately five inmates have built a client base through the Last Mile program at San Quentin.
A Better Path Forward
San Quentin’s officials screen inmates carefully before allowing them to participate in the Last Mile program. As part of the screening process, the inmates must submit their behavior records, write an essay, take a logic test and agree to an interview. Also, they must have the desire to focus on intense lessons. The prisoners must also possess a high school diploma or GED equivalent.
While participating in the program, the inmates do not have internet access. Instead, they do their work on a secure local area network (LAN) donated by program sponsors.
Training such as San Quentin’s Last Mile program helps inmates to overcome barriers such as a lack of education and marketable skills. Advocates hope that the program will help to reduce recidivism in California.
Prisoners who exit the penal system face significant obstacles when attempting to reintegrate into society. For instance, there are over 48,000 laws that prevent inmates from securing work, housing, occupational licenses and many of the fundamental things that they need to become productive members of the community. Prison programming, such as the Last Mile, helps inmates learn vital skills and character traits that will help them find success after they’ve paid their debt to society.