Spotlight on Reform: Code.7370

August 12, 2016 by

Code.7370 may sound like a code a prison guard might use to alert his colleagues of a problem, but in fact, it is an innovative program in California’s San Quentin State Prison that teaches inmates how to code.

Situated across the bay from San Francisco, San Quentin is notorious for having the largest male death row population in the Western Hemisphere – nearly 700. It also has an occupancy rate of 137% – housing over a thousand more inmates than its capacity allows – and has been the backdrop of many movies and television shows.

But behind its steel reinforced walls and barbed wires lies a cutting edge program that is training inmates in an unprecedented way, allowing them to go from steel walls to startups.

Created by The Last Mile (TLM), a nonprofit prison program, Code.7370 is a first-of-its-kind 6-month intensive computer programming class for inmates.

Since 2014 the program has been training selective inmates, some which have never used a smartphone, on how to program and build apps so that they can be competitive in the modern world upon release.

For eight hours a day, four days a week, inmates are taught to program in CSS, HTML, JavaScript, and Python for front-end development, and web and logo design along with data visualization and UX/UI for back-end development. All without the use of Internet.

Teaching them are instructors from Hack Reactor, an elite coding boot camp. For you and I to attend the boot camp for just half of the time that the inmates get, it would cost roughly $17,000. But, luckily, instructors from the boot camp volunteer their time for the cause.

Although they get virtual lessons through Google Hangout, the prisoners aren’t allowed to access the Internet themselves. The benefit of using Google Hangout for the program is, through its success, it has proven this program can be done remotely anywhere in the country from the most rural to the most urban prison landscapes.

On their website TLM says, “It is predicted that there will be a shortfall of 1 million software engineering jobs in 2020. The TLM ‘returned graduates’ will be positioned well to leverage this opportunity and support our mission to reduce recidivism by attaining gainful employment.”

And that they have.

Eight current inmates from the program have teamed up to start their own company, RebootSQ. The company develops products for clients, and since they have no Internet access they test the applications in a simulated environment built for them.

The program gets hundreds of applicants but is extremely selective, requiring inmates to go through an extensive application process, in-person interview, and a technical assessment.

Code.7370 provides inmates with a source of income while equipping them with a unique set of skills. In addition, it provides ex-offenders with a decent amount of money upon release, a skill that can be applied to a host of opportunities, and a portfolio of the work they have done.

Prison programs like this, that teach inmates skills that they can apply in today’s technological world is invaluable. While they may be away from society for some time, this program allows them to keep up with the ever-changing world.

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About the Author

Charles operates the Houston office for Empower Texans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.