Female Prisoners Learn How to Code

Female Prisoners Learn How to Code

Historically, careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math have been overwhelmingly held by men, but in recent years there has been a continued push to have women take notice of these careers as well.

Known as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), these positions require higher education and advanced training, and these careers can open up a huge world of possibilities.

One of the fastest and most cost-efficient ways for anyone to work in a STEM field is to learn how to code.

Coding is a broad term that describes “computer language.” Every program you run on your MAC or PC, every app you enjoy on your smartphone, every post you like on Facebook, and every tweet you send on Twitter relies on coding.

Since the world runs on digital technology, coding opens the door to endless opportunities. Coders can work for companies or open their own businesses. Coders can work remotely (ideal for work/life balance, especially for women with families) and can enter the field without a post-secondary degree.

So, here we have an increasingly important field with high-paying jobs and a stable outlook. It’s a field that, despite having fewer women in it than men, thrives when women take the reins (tech companies with women in management positions report a 34 percent higher rate of return on investment). The next logical step is to teach coding to prisoners as part of their skills training – and that is exactly what one non-profit group decided to do.

Girl Develop It (GDI) is a non-profit organization that helps women learn how to code and develop software. GDI’s programs are aimed at women of all races, education, upbringing, and income levels, with a vision to create confident coders with improved access to career opportunities. Founded in New York in 2010 by Vanessa Hurst and Sara Chipps, GDI started with just one class – that sold out in 24 hours. Today, GDI operates in 58 American cities and boasts over 55,000 members.

In December of 2017, GDI taught its first coding class at the Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution in New Castle, Delaware. The three-week course showed 12 students the fundamentals of website development. It wasn’t just inmates taking the course. Three correctional officers joined in too.

Although some of the inmates had not had Internet access for more than a decade, the students were eager to learn for a myriad of reasons. One inmate wanted to get into a culinary career upon release and was learning how to build a website to showcase her future eatery. Another inmate was approaching her senior years and wanted to add skills to her resume to increase her chances of getting a good job when she returned to society. One of the correctional officers had a side gig doing catering, and she wanted to expand that when she retired. She took the course to better understand the technology that supports her small business.

The class was a great success, with 100 percent of the inmates reporting increased confidence and a desire to continue learning to code.

In a media statement, GDI admitted that teaching incarcerated women how to code had been a goal for quite some time. Now, with the success of its first prison program, GDI will expand the program at Baylor and seek opportunities to teach coding to women in other prisons in and beyond Delaware.

Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014), and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com, and PrisonLawBlog.com.