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Coding Behind Bars: How Some Funders Want to Prepare Inmates for Life on the Outside

March 14, 2019, L.S Hall - Inside Philanthropy

It’s a challenge that has vexed criminal justice reformers and policymakers for years: how to successfully reintegrate released offenders back into society. One idea that’s gaining traction, including with some top funders, is to teach inmates to code.

Released offenders face multiple barriers to successful reentry to society. Between limited education and skills, as well as potential employers unwilling to take a chance on people with criminal records, securing a job is one of those many obstacles. With over 600,000 people released from prison every year, some after serving extended sentences, this is no small issue. One study found that in Illinois alone, the cost of recidivism totaled $13 billion over five years.

As we’ve reported, foundations are tackling reentry challenges from multiple angles. Quite a bit of this work is happening locally, as funders focus on issues like access to housing, education and employment. Another thread of grantmaking supports policy and advocacy efforts to remove legal barriers that limit job opportunities for ex-offenders, such as state licensing rules that ban people who’ve already served their time from a huge swath of occupations.

An intriguing nonprofit in the reentry space is The Last Mile, a national organization that believes teaching technology skills is an avenue for helping inmates access secure and well-paid employment upon release. In 2014, The Last Mile began its coding program at California’s San Quentin penitentiary. Venture capitalist Chris Redlitz and his wife, Beverly Parenti, launched The Last Mile with the California Department of Corrections.

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