Digital transformation goes to jail

  November 10, 2016  >   Breaking news · Projects

Inside the classroom where San Quentin inmates learn how to code.


At San Quentin State Prison in California, inmates are barred from using the internet, and many have been serving time since before smartphones existed. But a new project offers a chance to take part in the tech transformations they might otherwise have missed. The Last Mile Works is a full-fledged web development shop where inmates help build apps and other software for everyone from tiny startups to established companies like Airbnb. The men in the program make $16.77 an hour—not much by Silicon Valley standards. But the real goal is to help them land jobs once they’re out.



San Quentin’s dev shop is the brainchild of Chris Redlitz, a venture capitalist who founded the Last Mile as a nonprofit in 2010 to offer inmates entrepre­neurial training. Working with the coding school Hack ­Reactor, Redlitz spun up a tech incubator inside the prison called Code.7370 (after the government classification number for software companies). Inmates learn Java­Script, Python, and WordPress before presenting their portfolios at a Demo Day.

By year’s end, the program will be active in three additional prisons.

The Last Mile Works gives Code.7370 grads a way to get real-world experience on the inside. Because they can’t use the internet, the dev shop’s coders work on a closed network, and a manager pushes the results to the outside. Any money the shop makes is funneled back into the nonprofit. The tech industry is the perfect fit for job seekers with unusual résumés, Redlitz says. “It’s about the quality of your work, not your back­ground.” Inmates can’t go online, but coding connects them to the 21st-century economy they’ll enter when they’re free.

Read original article on Wired US