FOR RELEASE: November 16, 2015
CONTACT: Judy Beck, 444-0409
Montana exploring potential for training inmates in computer programming
HELENA – Montana’s state Chief Information Officer Ron Baldwin recently joined Department of Corrections (DOC) staff to tour the educational and vocational programs offered in two California prisons. Gayle Lambert and John Daugherty, administrators of DOC’s Montana Correctional Enterprises (MCE) and Information Technology divisions respectively, traveled with Baldwin to Folsom and San Quentin state prisons.
At the two prisons, they met with their California counterparts and reviewed the programs California has designed to help train inmates for fields in which employers can’t attract enough qualified staff. For example, the goal of San Quentin’s “Code.7370” program is to train software developers who can obtain employment in one of Silicon Valley’s technology-based companies when they are released from prison. That educational program is administered by a partnership between Silicon Valley's technology business community and the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA). Inmates learn programming languages and simulate live coding in an offline computer lab.
“In Montana, we recognize that a vital part of preparing inmates for reentry in the 21st Century has to include introducing new technologies,” DOC Director Mike Batista said. “We’re interested in this program because it gives inmates a better chance of finding meaningful work and a more realistic opportunity to pay back any restitution they owe their victims, while also helping employers find the trained employees their businesses need.”
When the Montana team arrived, the classes were working on projects for members of the non-profit Last Mile and another group was working on a project for a Princeton University professor. The inmates worked in groups that included students from both the second and first year classes working together. The students are expected to “pitch” their application ideas to other inmates and outside investors.
“What we saw in the two California prisons confirmed that the long-term goals we have for training Montana inmates in computer programming can, with adequate staff resources, become a reality,” Daugherty said. “If it hadn’t been for their prison uniforms, it would have been hard to tell the San Quentin inmates from any other group of programmers I’ve seen working on high-level coding.”
Lambert and Daugherty were able to speak with many of the students about the projects they were working on and what their role was. One project involved writing a mobile application for teachers, coaches and students to allow access to real time grades and attendance. Another group was writing an application to report how chickenpox was once eradicated but is now on the rise once again due to lack of immunizations.
“At the Montana Department of Corrections, we’re working to ensure that the offenders who leave our prison system are equipped with the technological skills they need to succeed in today’s workforce,” Lambert said. “We’ve long recognized the need for technology skills in every aspect of employment. The statistics indicate that steady employment for released offenders is one of the keys to reducing recidivism. It’s a win-win for released offenders,the technology community and the taxpayers of Montana.”
Montana’s Department of Corrections worked in conjunction with the Department of Administration to implement a secure inmate network for offender educational programs at both adult and youth facilities. The team that worked on this project was awarded a Governor’s award for excellence in 2014.
The department also has partnered with two-year colleges in Billings, Kalispell and Miles City to provide technology training at both its adult and youth facilities. These technology-based courses are in addition to those offered through the Correctional Enterprise program and the state prisons’ individual educational programs.