The Last Mile: Silicon Valley’s Response to a 700% Increase in the United States’ Prison Population Since 1970

As Tom Silver claims in the Harvard Political Review article, Breaking Out of the Prison Cycle, there is nothing remarkable about such a headline. It is a story that has been covered for decades by a multitude of journalistic organizations. Silver goes on to say that high recidivism rates are partially to blame for high cost, and that recidivism is “due in part to the difficulty that ex-convicts face in reentering the job market.” Few correctional education programs exist because of budgetary constraints, and those which do don’t equip inmates with the skills required in the 21st century job marketplace.

Chris Redlitz and Beverly Parenti have an answer for this problem. In 2010, they founded The Last Mile, a prison rehabilitation program that aims to reduce recidivism rates and cut national spending on incarceration by providing technology and business education to prisoners.

At San Quentin State Prison, inmates enroll in Code.7370, a four day per week, eight hour per day, six-month entrepreneurial class in HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and Python. Upon completion of the course, inmates pitch their business ideas, which incorporate technology and a social cause, “in front of 350 invited guests from the business community and fellow inmates.” Some, like James Houston’s “Teen Tech Hub” are awaiting funding. Others, like Chrisfino Kenyatta Leal, are employed full-time at technology companies in San Francisco. None of the prisoners who participate in this program have gone back to prison.

It is clear that this curriculum, which does not rely on the Internet or other ubiquitous means of technological communication, is effective. I am curious now about its scalable applications. How can it move beyond Silicon Valley? Are there formal post-release processes that can be implemented to better guarantee employment? Is there a way to translate some of this innovative thinking to other public domains, such as under-funded schools without technology curricula?