Computer Coding Class Comes to San Quentin

The Last Mile’s program prepares inmates for good outside jobs

By Juan Haines

Inmates enrolled in a computer coding class showcased their work at a press conference on Nov. 12.

The class, called Code.7370, allows inmates to learn HTML, CSS and JavaScript virtually from coding teachers who work at Hack Reactor, a coding academy in San Francisco.

Inmates receive instruction through video conference calls with teachers on an administrative network, and take the class in an offline computer lab, according to a California Prison Industry Authority press release by Michele Kane.

“This is exciting for San Quentin,” said then Acting Warden Kelly Mitchell. “It’s something that the department fully supports

Code.7370 is a collaboration between Hack Reactor, CALPIA General Manager Charles Pattillo and Chris Redlitz and Beverly Parenti — Silicon Valley venture capitalists who co-founded inmate entrepreneurship training program The Last Mile (TLM).

The training program TLM, established in 2010, invites successful technology and business professionals to work with inmates and “help bridge the gap between the penal system and the technology sector,” the CALPIA press release reports.

“It has taken a lot of work to prepare the classroom for the first 18 inmates,” Pattillo said. CALPIA doled out about a quarter million dollars to construct the San Quentin classroom, with an annual operating cost of about $180,000, according to Pattillo.

According to Pattillo, the program saves the state money because it lowers the recidivism rate. Inmates who participated in the CALPIA’s Career Technical Training program have a 7.1 percent recidivism rate, while the total three-year recidivism rate for all felons released between fiscal years 2002-03 and 2008-09 is 61 percent, according to a 2013 CDCR report: http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Adult_Research_Branch/Research_documents/Outcome_evaluation_Report_2013.pdf.

“It costs about $60,000 a year to incarcerate the 18 men in this classroom,” Pattillo said. “Do the math, that’s a cost of $1,080,000.”

The challenge is to provide this type of training to prisons located in remote places and be able to teach the curriculum without Internet access, Pattillo said. He added that he is optimistic that the program could expand to other prisons, emphasizing the women’s prisons.

“When I found out about The Last Mile and the Code.7370 class, I wanted to get involved, said Jon Gripshover, one of the program’s instructors who used to work with at-risk youths. “The coding class gives the inmates tools that they could use to help them find jobs once they are released from prison.”

The curriculum is administered in two-day blocks called sprints, where inmates are paired up and given specific programming tasks and projects to complete together.

“The team concept in problem solving is really helpful,” said Jason Jones, a 31-year-old inmate who is one of the program’s students. “When we get problems, my partner might see a solution to a problem that I may not see. So, I’m learning from him. Two heads are better than one.”

Jones has been in prison since 2006 and is scheduled to be released in 2017.

Following the press conference, Redlitz went on to facilitate the current session of TLM. At the session, about 14 new inmates — not participating in the coding program — are learning how to develop business ideas that have a socially responsible component.

Inmates stood before the class to pitch their ideas, which range from ways to allow musicians to share and profit from their work to apps that would give users detailed information about food choices.

“Teaching inmates to do this type of work keeps jobs in America,” said Redlitz. “This program shifts the out-sourcing of jobs, bringing good jobs back to the U.S.”

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