IMPACT
11/17/2014 06:13 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Prisoners Who've Never Used A Computer Mouse Learn How To Code

Long prison sentences mean that some of the men incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison in California have never used the Internet. For these inmates, learning how to write computer code wasn't the easiest assignment.

But Gary Valentino wasn't intimidated by the task.

"You never master this," Valentino, who has been in prison for about 20 years, told KPIX 5 News in San Francisco of his newfound skill. "There's always an ongoing process, and I look forward [to] the challenge."

Valentino is one of 18 inmates taking Code 7370 -- a computer coding class for men serving time in the California prison, KPIX 5 News reported. The program, which was created by San Francisco nonprofit The Last Mile, aims to curb the recidivism rates of its students by giving them career skills that will make them more valuable in a 21st-century workforce.

"Having a job is the key to successful re-entry and breaking the cycle of incarceration," Beverly Parenti, co-founder of The Last Mile, told KPIX 5 News.

The National Institute of Justice found that recidivism is common in the United States. A 2005 study reported that within three years of release, 67.8 percent of released prisoners were rearrested, and within five years, the figure jumped to 76.6 percent.

As USA Today noted, the goal of the class is to teach the inmates -- many of whom never touched a computer mouse or smartphone -- enough coding know-how to be able to hold an entry-level job as a web developer by the end of the six-month course.

The Last Mile works with instructors from Hack Reactor, a company that has created software engineering curricula and programming courses, to implement the class four days a week for the men of San Quentin.

The class not only serves to benefit inmates, but has the potential to reduce taxpayer costs as well. For example, it costs the state of California roughly $60,000 a year to house an inmate, so if the recidivism rate among the course's 18 students drops to zero, the state could save more than $1 million a year, as KPIX 5 News pointed out.

“I’m humbled and inspired to think that by learning this skill, I’ll have the opportunity to transcend the stigma of being in prison," Christopher Schuhmacher wrote on a Q and A website used by the inmates, KPIX 5 News reported. "I still don’t know exactly what the future holds, but I’m moving forward feeling incredibly lucky."

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