Coding program expanding to three other institutions
Story and photos by Michele Kane, Chief of External Affairs
California Prison Industry Authority
San Quentin State Prison plays host to some famous visitors, from well-known entertainers to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, but when a White House motorcade escorted by the U.S. Secret Service pulls up to the Administration Building, there is no doubt someone else with great influence wants to visit.
Valerie Jarrett, Senior Adviser to President Barack Obama, wanted to see the popular high-tech Code.7370 program that is garnering national attention.
“People want to be associated with programs that work,” said Jarrett. “We have been going around talking about the importance of second chances for the people who earn a second chance.”
The technology-based rehabilitation program teaches offenders how to code and is operated by CDCR in partnership with the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) and San Francisco-based nonprofit The Last Mile.
On this September day, Jarrett met with Warden Ron Davis, CDCR’s Office of Correctional Education Superintendent Brant Choate, CALPIA’s General Manager Chuck Pattillo, and The Last Mile Co-Founders Chris Redlitz and Beverly Parenti, among others.
“The White House visit provided further validation that Code.7370 works while highlighting the significant value of private and public partnerships,” said Redlitz. “These relationships are crucial to accelerate our program’s expansion and to ensure all the resources are available to help these men get on the right track and have meaningful employment when they leave.”
Jarrett then paid a surprise visit to the Code.7370 class. She talked with the participants and praised them for taking on the challenge and learning to code, particularly without internet access.
“Thank you for the commitment to yourselves and your belief that your life can get better and you are getting the tools you need to leave here to be self-sufficient and lead law-abiding lives,” said Jarrett. “The fact that this program has zero percent recidivism shows it’s working and I can see the energy, enthusiasm and commitment dedicated to this program.”
The men demonstrated their projects and asked questions of the President’s Senior Adviser. Jarrett also visited the new Joint Venture Program, The Last Mile Works, which will employ offenders who will work as software engineers, putting their newly learned skills to work on real client-driven projects and earn industry-comparable wages while serving the remainder of their sentence.
“I know Mark Zuckerberg came here and visited you guys several months ago and he called me and said you should come take a look at it. The more people who are exposed to what you are doing, the more likely we are to take this and expand it to scale.”
CDCR’s Division of Rehabilitative Programs and The Last Mile are already in the midst of expanding the coding program to three locations. The coding program is up and running at Ironwood State Prison, and will soon be available at the Folsom Women’s Facility and Chuckawalla Valley State Prison.
“Code.7370 is pioneering the new technology-driven curriculum and it makes sense to expand the program,” said Superintendent Choate. “Providing more high-tech programs and education to our offenders increases their chances of success when they return to their communities, which in turn increases public safety.”
Jarrett also said the program makes economic sense and she would rather spend $5,000 a year teaching individuals to learn to code than the average cost to house a CDCR offender, which is approximately $72,000.
Before she left, Jarrett congratulated the men for all their hard work and said she was impressed.
“Finding those best practices around our country is a big part of what I do; I go around looking to see what’s working outside of Washington,” she said.
Several graduates of Code.7370 talked with Jarrett about the complexities of coding and what the program means to them, including Harry Hemphill.
“Ms. Jarrett, what you are looking at is a room full of men that are driven, passionate and determined to improve their lives. Code.7370 is a program of hope, hope in our future and hope that when we parole we return as productive citizens,” said Hemphill.