Teaching Coding To Help Convicts Succeed

As techies, we love code. But here is a story of how coding can help people with troubled pasts succeed.
When Chris Redlitz walked into San Quentin, he had never set foot in a prison before. He was expecting to find a group of “social misfits”, not men anxious to learn the art of programming. Redlitz created a program called Code.7370 aimed at rehabilitating prisoners by teaching them to code.

You can read the full account of the project here.

Redlitz was surprised when he had the full attention of the inmates. Since there are no cell phones in prison, his audience was looking at him rather than their small screens. Redlitz’s thirty-minute presentation stretched into two hours, extended by interested men asking sincere questions. Redlitz writes, “These men were prepared, motivated and committed to learning how they could create a better life after they served their time.”
After his initial visit, Redlitz returned home to discuss his afternoon with his wife. She was not as enthusiastic as he was, but agreed to do a little research before she made up her mind. The couple found the following disturbing facts about the American prison system:

  1. The number of people in prison in the US had increased 700% from 1972 to 2010.
  2. The United States holds 25% of the world’s incarcerated population.
  3. California spends more on prisons than on higher education.
  4. In California it costs around $47,000 per year to keep one prisoner in jail.
  5. 67% of the state prisoners released in 2005 were re-arrested within the next three years.

These figures are quite shocking, and Redlitz and his wife agree – or as he puts it: “You don’t have to be a professional investor to realize that this is a bad investment for taxpayers.” This is why Redlitz partnered with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the California Prison Industry Authority to create The Last Mile – a six-month business and entrepreneurship program to fight the staggering recidivism rates.
The program requires the men to “create a business around a personal passion”, and teaches them how to build a business plan around their ideas. This creates goals for the inmates who plan to implement their ideas upon their release from prison.
The program saw some success, so Redlitz looked to expand. In 2014, he launched Code.7370 in San Quentin – the first programming curriculum in a United States prison. The results have been truly inspiring. Redlitz writes: “Some of our graduates will be released this year and we are confident they will be hired as software engineers. With hard work and determination, these men have overcome serious obstacles and created a positive path for their future.”
The program has been adopted in five other California prisons and organizers are hoping that Code.7370 will become a national program in the coming years. Redlitz writes:“Beverly and I have become Lifers. The Last Mile is a lifelong commitment for us, and we are blessed that so many incredible people have dedicated their time to make this program such a powerful experience. We are proud of our returned citizen graduates, none of whom have gone back to jail. They pave the way for others to follow.”

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