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Silicon Valley Invests In Prisoners

Prison Inmates Given Second Chance With Tech

Silicon Valley Invests In Prisoners

San Quentin State Prison is the oldest in California. Since 1852, it has had a bold legacy of maximum security prisoners. One of the largest in the country, it currently holds death row inmates, and is the only California state prison that still executes male inmates, despite the last one happening in 2006. It also has an college, and an inmate-produced newspaper, the San Quentin News. It also enjoys a particularly close geographic location to Silicon Valley.

At the end of the six months, TLM brings in a group of Silicon Valley investors and executives for “Demo Day”, where the 18 men will pitch their ideas.

Which is precisely why venture capitalist Chris Redlitz and his wife Beverly Parenti founded the The Last Mile in 2010. The goal? To ensure a full rehabilitation into society upon their release, and in order to avoid recidivism, the program has aspired to outfit inmates with the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley in the hopes of employability upon release. Throughout the six-month program, the inmates learn the skills necessary, while brainstorming business models and initiating their own startup and business plan. At the end of the six months, TLM brings in a group of Silicon Valley investors and executives for “Demo Day”, where the 18 men will pitch their ideas. The idea is that upon parole, they will be given paid internships at tech startups. California has one the highest prison populations and one of the highest rates of recidivism in the U.S. alone. However, in the past three years, recidivism rates have decreased, and as of the latest report in 2013, they were at decade rate low of 61% in the state of California. But that still means that 61% of all inmates were rearrested within three years of initial release.

But that still means that 61% of all inmates were rearrested within three years of initial release.

In order to help curb the rate of recidivism, TLM has created their most most challenging project yet: “Code 7370” is a four-day-per-week, eight-hour-per-day, six-month course where they learn HTML, CSS, Javascript and are taught to be web designers and developers. Currently there are 18 men who have been selected for the project, which is impressive when you take into consideration that the inmates are never given access to the internet, and many in fact never operated a computer prior to the class. The first lesson explained how to use a mouse and turn on a monitor. Of the 18 men, some were initially arrested in the 1980s and never even had a mobile phone.

The first lesson explained how to use a mouse and turn on a monitor. Of the 18 men, some were initially arrested in the 1980s and never even had a mobile phone.

It has long been practice to employ inmates during their sentences. In fact, the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) is a state-run agency which provides 7,000 offenders to positions that range from manufacturing license plates, to coffee and other products that can be purchased from other state agencies. CALPIA claims that recidivism rates are between 26-28% in comparison to the state average of 61%.

Code 7370 works in conjunction with Hack Reactor, a SF-based coding bootcamp. The courses are taught via video conference on Google Hangout and aside from that, they do the entire lesson sans internet. The computers are prepared with offline reference materials, rather than Chrome.

Quora published several of the men’s letters and reactions upon being selected for the program.





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