Soapbox

California can turn inmates into coders

Andrew Kaplan, right, a product marketing manager at LinkedIn, leads a session of The Last Mile at San Quentin State Prison in 2013.
Andrew Kaplan, right, a product marketing manager at LinkedIn, leads a session of The Last Mile at San Quentin State Prison in 2013. AP file

More than 95 percent of state prison inmates are eventually released. Gov. Jerry Brown has freed 1,300 prisoners serving life sentences – more than the previous three governors combined.

 
Opinion

A Manhattan Institute study found the sooner ex-inmates are employed, the less likely they will commit crimes. But the harsh reality is that people leave prison with the odds stacked against them. Few prisons offer education services beyond GED classes and manual training. Without meaningful rehabilitation and job training, crime or unemployment are seemingly the only options.

But what if we set them up for success with real-life skills and work experience that lead to well-paying, stable jobs?

The Last Mile, a nonprofit organization in the Bay Area, has developed a new model for prisons by teaching inmates to code. By 2020 there will be 1.4 million jobs in computer science available, but only 400,000 graduates with the skills to apply for those jobs. Not only is the opportunity vast, the average annual salary of a software engineer is $85,000 a year.

The Last Mile secures coding contracts outsourced by companies from around the country and assigns the work to the inmates at $16.79 an hour, compared to the next best prison job wage of less than $1. This allows them to pay off court fees and restitution faster and to potentially re-enter communities with some savings. That can be life-changing.

We have audacious goals for the next four years, including creating more than 165,000 hours of work for inmates, resulting in about $2.9 million in increased earnings, $1 million in cost savings to the prison system and priceless work experience.

To achieve these goals, The Last Mile is seeking $1 million in donations via a new fund that allows donors to only give as impact is achieved.

Next year, San Quentin State Prison will release hundreds into the Bay Area. The Last Mile is ready with both an innovative new program and funding vehicle that can help answer the question: When those gates open – who do you want out?

Beverly Parenti is executive director and co-founder of The Last Mile. She can be contacted at Beverly@thelastmile.org.

  Comments