California’s prison system has the highest rate of recidivism in the nation. According to official statistics, over 65% of prisoners released from California penitentiaries will return to jail within three years.
Many factors contribute to this daunting problem, but the lack of employment opportunity among former prisoners is by far the most significant. Beyond the criminal records which bar former inmates from most jobs, many lack the marketable skills needed to compete in the modern economy.
The Last Mile is a non-profit which is working with inmates to give them the skills they need to find meaningful employment once they leave the prison system. Working with authorities at San Quentin prison in Marin County, The Last Mile created an innovative program which prepares prisoners for technology careers.
The logic is simple: with programming and coding in such high demand, tech employers will go to great lengths to find the talent they need. These are the kinds of flexible, well-paying jobs which fit the needs of many former prisoners, giving them a chance to succeed on the outside. Programming even pays well in prison, allowing prisoners to save for expenses they will face once released.
While the program’s concept is elegantly simple, its implementation is quite complex. Training inmates while they are still under the restrictions of prison life creates strong technical challenges. Prisoners are not allowed to access the internet while behind bars, but proper coding requires responsive, open systems and the tools that go with them.
In order to create a technical environment which delicately balances security and functionality, The Last Mile turned to ECHO; who have been working in concert with a professional team at Scale Venture Partners. They were instrumental in acquiring donations for the build-out and have been involved in every aspect of project implementation.
The engineers at ECHO designed a system which meets San Quentin’s rigorous security requirements. Computers were modified to disable all USB drives and external connectivity. The prisoners are prevented from accessing the internet through strict security protocols, even as the system itself is connected so maintenance and monitoring can be accomplished remotely.
ECHO then implemented the wholly self-contained world of programming tools and instructor-led curriculum designed by staff at The Last Mile. This includes a modified version of GitHub where prisoners can test their work with HTML, Ruby on Rails, Java, and other programming languages. In order to create this platform, ECHO integrated disparate units of programming and curriculum into a cohesive whole, complete with a user interface which the inmates can be comfortable with.
Taking the lessons learned from its initial effort, The Last Mile intends to incorporate lessons learned and scale up with additional prisons in California and beyond. The system created by ECHO is designed to be scalable, matching The Last Mile’s vision for the future.
ECHO is very proud to play a part in this exciting and innovative project as part of its commitment to non-profits. How can ECHO help your organization? Just ask us.