As the world progresses and companies modernize, the need for technical workers has grown exponentially, and the pandemic has put that need on hyperdrive. A Missouri prison is trying to fill that gap by training prisoners in computer programming so they can join the technology workforce after their release.
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Prison education programs can drastically help break the cycle of people returning to prison once they are released. The nonprofit technology organization that provides this training, LaunchCode, wants to give these prisoners at the Eastern Missouri Correctional Center a productive skill so they have a better chance of succeeding.
“I’ve heard people who come from the hardest places often become the hardest and best coders because they’ve been through so much, and we see that through these learners,” said LaunchCode CEO Jeff. Mazur.
“We need technology so much to grow the United States, to grow our economy, to grow our companies,” said Jennifer Grandy Young, executive director of the North American Technology Council or TECNA.
Young says almost every company needs technical workers now, and the pandemic has only boosted demand.
“Everyone retired to their home, and the way they communicated with the world was through technology, so the technological workforce has just increased,” Young said.
Young says the US Department of Commerce expects 1.3 million net growth in new technology jobs by 2025.
At the Missouri Easter Correctional Center, inmates can learn all about web development and coding through LaunchCode’s JusTech program, with the idea that they can build skills to work in the technology industry after their release.
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“It’s incredibly inspiring to see a group of people who, against all odds and without the Internet, have taken on the challenge of learning to code and have succeeded,” said Hailey Schoaf, vice president of justice for LaunchCode’s justice programs.
“Everyone, regardless of their background, should have this chance to acquire a skill that gives them a productive career in technology,” Mazur said.
David Thiele has been in custody for six years on a number of charges, including domestic violence.
“This is probably the best thing this camp has to offer so far, so I decided to go ahead and take advantage of it,” Thiele said.
His father and sister were involved in computer programming, and he says he has always been interested in technology.
“The possibilities are endless. “The technology industry is huge, so I can almost do whatever I want, as long as someone puts me on board,” Thiele said.
Thiele completed the program and continues to study more as she prepares for her release in a year.
“It opens a whole other door for something I thought I would never be able to do. I probably wouldn’t even do it on the street, but the very fact that I did it in prison is amazing,” Thiele said.
While Young says the program is encouraging, the need for technicians is huge and will continue to grow, so the shortage is unlikely to go away any time soon.
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“We know that working with this universe of people will not fill this huge gap that exists in the technological workforce. We need to work with tens of thousands of people who come from all walks of life to achieve this goal of building this workforce. But we believe that the history of those in prison is in many ways the same as other people in society. They are just people who really want to do this and have not had the opportunity through traditional means to do so so far, and LaunchCode wants to be the organization that can give them that opportunity, “Mazur said.
A total of 47 people have completed the technology program so far. The program has actually expanded to a second prison in Missouri and hopes to expand to a women’s institution by next year.