People who spend time in prison or incarceration often face barriers to accessing stable jobs, housing and financial services. This type of barrier is the key to recovery for the more than 600,000 people released from prison each year. Between 2005 and 2014, an estimated 68% of those released in 2005 re-arrested within three years. Eighty-three percent of those released in 2005 re-arrested in nine years, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Statistics.
The Justice through Code, a semester-long coding and interpersonal skill that held at Columbia University can seen as providing an alternative path for people to return to society.
Throughout the semester, students learn the basics of Python and other computer science basics. They learn career coaching, public speaking training and negotiation skills and how write resumes. After the students finished the program, Justice Through Code, which took only 30 students from its first class last year, contacted their partners for the internships and jobs they were offered.
More than 80 percent of the first population interested in looking for a job or internship after the program played a relevant role within six months, Aden MacDonald, founder of Justice through the Code, told TechCrunch. Antwan (pictured above) is a graduate who earned an internship after the program. Antwan has been spending the whole time in Colombia in the school’s IT department since December.
“It was a surprise that within a year of me passing over Facebook for a plane [for trial through trial], I was actually working on an internship in Colombia,” Antoine told TechCrunch. “And it has just been great. I mean, it is learning nonstop every day.” Prior to that, Antoine spent time at Emergency Works. Antwan said, “This is really my first chance to use the program I learned in the program.
Code through Justice Works with several key technologists to support it is program and its students. For example, Amazon Web Services provides laptops for the students they need while technicians from Google, Slack and Coursera talk to students about their technology experience.
AWS has not yet been able to recruit people from the program, but an AWS representative said the company was interested in offering graduates opportunities. “Of course, our intention is to recruit people from this program,” the representative told TechCrunch.
Justice through Code is now accepting applications for its third agency, which McDonald said he expects to have a class size of more than 60. Applicants for code-based justice do not have to have any prior coding experience, but the program wants participants to feel comfortable using computers. The application process also tries to determine how well equipped one can be to deal with the frustrations that come with learning how to code.
“How to code is in a situation where you don’t know everything,” McDonald said. “And it can be extremely frustrating. Therefore, I think the process of how people work through problems is beneficial. We do have a number of plausible issues in the interview, and it is not really that anyone has the answer, but we do have questions in the pair. So if someone fights for a question, we will go into detail about how to solve it and then we will see what is the process of applying the same principle of reasoning to the next question using the same principle. So how do those people react in a learning environment, as well as a kind of curiosity about the industry and if they selected to participate in the program, is just a real drive to succeed.”
Code of Justice is not the only program that serves people affected by the criminal justice system. The Last Mile teaches business and coding skills to people while in prison and similarly partners with technology companies in search of jobs for returning citizens.