Indiana to launch coding program for women’s prison inmates

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Governor Eric Holcomb will on Tuesday introduce a new computer coding program for inmates at the Indiana Women’s Prison.

The governor’s office said Indiana will be the second state to adopt, in a pilot format, The Last Mile coding program into one of its prisons. The first state to offer the program was California.

"As a part of Gov. Holcomb’s Next Level Agenda for 2018, the program will begin training women how to code at the Indiana Women’s Prison with the ultimate goal of aligning them with gainful employment in the tech industry upon release,” according to an email from the governor’s office.

Holcomb will join Chris Redlitz, the founder of The Last Mile, and members of the tech community, to announce the pilot program on Tuesday at Smash Social in downtown Idianapolis. The event will also feature Kenyatta Leal, a former inmate at San Quentin State Prison in California, who participated in the program and was able to secure a paid internship and then a job in the tech industry upon release.

Redlitz told IBJ that Holcomb sent a team to San Quentin to check out the program, which was founded in 2010.

"We've been successful in the last eight years to have great success with people getting out," Redlitz told IBJ. "Based on Gov. Holcomb's focus and his team's dedication, we chose Indiana as the first state to expand to. The goal is to provide marketable skills for people getting out. Being a software engineering is a very hirable skill."

Redlitz said the cost of the program is "somewhere in the $200,000 range" for startup and then about $5,000 per inmate per year. The state will begin with one classroom of between 24 to 30 people, according to Redlitz. If 30 people participated each year, that would equate to about $350,000 the first year and $150,000 each year after.

"It's a pretty good deal to get them employable," Redlitz said.

Holcomb in his 2018 State of the State address talked about his desire to help those in prison re-integrate into the labor market. And IBJ recently reported that Holcomb is trying to reduce the recidivism rate by focusing on re-entry programs.

By 2020, he pledged to "help at least 1,000 Hoosier adults in our prison system earn certificates and credentials each year, so that they can secure high-demand, high-wage jobs upon release.”

The state’s recidivism rate—the percent of people who are recommitted to the Indiana Department of Corrections within three years of their release date for a new conviction or violation of post-release supervision—is 37 percent.

Redlitz said his program has a "zero percent recidivism" rate in California.

"I think employment is the key," he said. "All the people who come out are employed or they are students. We have people enroll in continuing education in coding. It's a sense of purpose."

But he acknowledged his program is "tough to get into." Inmate participants have to have a clean record of infractions for two years inside the prison. And if someone commits an infraction, they are terminated from the program.

The coding program itself is one year. After that, "they have to go through the same interview process anyone else would" in order to get a job.

"It's all about the quality of work, not your past so much," Redlitz said. "There's a huge need for software engineers today."

Located on the northwest side of Indianapolis, the Indiana Women’s Prison is a maximum-security facility that has an average daily population of about 600 people.

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