California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Secretary Scott Kernan visited San Quentin with CDCR Director of Enterprise Information Services Russ Nichols to witness a historic event, the launch of a sophisticated and secure wireless computer server cluster which imitates the internet,. The system allows students in San Quentin’s computer coding training program, Code 7370, to write codes in a simulated environment without actual internet connectivity.
“Corruption within the California state prison system cannot be tolerated,” U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman to NBC San Diego regarding the indictment of a 23-year CDCR veteran caught smuggling heroin and meth into prison.
“The last time I was actually in this room was 1983,” said Kernan. He was standing in the empty warehouse of the old San Quentin Prison Print Shop, which is now the home of Code 7370.
“The programs at San Quentin are like night and day, I never thought in my 30 years with the department (CDCR) that this could be possible. To think that we would have programs like this (Code 7370) is beyond me. It’s a very positive thing to see,” Kernan said.
Participants of Code 7370 Az Ford, Aly Tamboura and Jason Jones presented websites and web applications they developed from scratch to Kernan, who asked, “Does this program really make a difference to inmates?” Instantly all inmates replied, “Yes, of course. Absolutely.”
“I was having disciplinary problems for 10 months. For six months I was on C–status, where I was confined to my cell, and for four months I lost my privileges. Code 7370 changed my life and pushed me to take other programs,” said graduate Jones, who introduced his website called Getting Parents’ Attention (GPA) to Kernan.
“It does make a difference, especially for those prisoners who are looking for a viable skill to use when they parole,” said graduate Henry Hemphill. “It’s a huge interest for inmates; many of them ask to come to San Quentin to learn vocational and coding skills. The news about the coding program is spreading.”
Code 7370, was founded by Chris Redlitz and Beverly Parenti in partnership with the California Prison Industry Authority.
The California-based nonprofit organization Turn 2 U, Inc., will start a joint-venture program with the business name RebootSQ, according to CDCR press release. The business will employ seven offenders at San Quentin, with plans to hire more inmate coders.
Only a few selected graduates of the Code 7370 class will be able to work for Turn 2 U’s joint venture as software engineers. These men will “have a marketable job skill, a relevant portfolio, and savings to help them with successful reentry,” said Redlitz.
“The prison should be very proud of what they have accomplished. Warden Davis and Lt. Robinson shouldn’t expect anything less,” Kernan said. “I’m very proud of the CDCR officers who work hard every day to keep the prisons safe. The volunteers and correctional officers are a shining example of what rehabilitation in prison should look like.”
Kernan hopes to bridge the gap between correctional officers and inmates. He said it will be a challenge, but it would also create a safer environment for both parties.
Kernan recalled some violent times when he first started working in the department 30 years ago. “Things are now starting to change more and more toward rehabilitation, so as staff we need to be professional in helping this change. I know that we have some work to do, but I also know that it is possible.”
Getting rehabilitation programs to rural areas is more of a challenge for the department because it’s hard to get volunteers willing to travel long distances. However, Kernan said he’s currently working on ways to bridge this gap.
“There is a lady who takes children to Calipatria State Prison to spend a week with their fathers. Those are the volunteers we need—committed and dedicated to rehabilitation,” said Kernan. “I’m also aware of the large Spanish-speaking population in our prisons. A problem is the lack of Spanish-speaking volunteers to help run those programs.”
Kernan indicated the governor is giving reasonable grants for long-term offenders’ re-entry programs for parolees and a number of programs that are aimed toward rehabilitation.
As for the “lifer” population, Kernan said that, “We are looking at lifers and those lifers without the possibility of parole who have sustained positive behavior and how we can open opportunities for these groups.”
To Kernan, ex-convicts working with CDCR are important. “Many parolees have been given entrance to Pelican Bay and Kern Valley state prisons. They go in and give speeches. I am not opposed to having ex-convicts come back inside the prison, on a case-by-case basis,” said Kernan.
After watching Code 7370’s graduates give presentations, Kernan went on to tour the prison’s education department. Kernan said, “I want to be able to provide inmates programs that will help them with their rehabilitation and help inmates see that there is hope at the end of the tunnel.”
When asked to comment on Gov. Jerry Brown’s rehabilitation act initiative, which is expected to be on the November ballot, Kernan declined to comment other than saying, “I will say this initiative, if passed, will give more hope to inmates and hope for positive changes I support.”
–Aly Tamboura also contributed to this article