Formerly incarcerated individuals are getting a chance at changing their trajectories, thanks to a West Coast-based collaboration.
The Coding Dojo partnered up with the Prison Scholar Fund to create a unique opportunity to train people typically overlooked in the ever-evolving job market.
"I started [the Prison Scholar Fund] back in 2006 when I was currently incarcerated," CEO and co-founder Dirk van Velzen told the Black Information Network in an interview.
The nonprofit's leader explained that he founded the organization in response to access to the Pell Grant being taken away from incarcerated people back in 1994.
"Luckily I had a dad, and he believed in me, and he had a checkbook and he paid for my tuition," van Velzen said. While going to school behind bars, he and his dad were inspired to provide the same access to others.
"There's almost zero opportunity for prisoner education programs," the CEO said. Surprise funding came in 2006 that officially launched The Fund, and through its efforts, PSF got 110 people's educations financed before his own release in 2015.
"I was lucky that I had this opportunity," van Velzen said. "And when you look around you, all your brothers and your sisters in the other prisons, they're just like you. They're just people ..... And either they get out of prison with new skills or they get out of prison with the same skills they came in with."
In the US, 45% of formerly incarcerated people remain unemployed one year after their release. And 68% of all released individuals are rearrested within three years of their release.
A wide body of research has linked education's ability to lowering recidivism rates and even reducing crime. On prison education programs, scholars say the evidence is clear: the higher the degree, the lower the recidivism.
The Northwestern Prison Education Program examined data from 404,638 incarcerated people across 30 states. Of those who obtained an Associates degree, 14% were rearrested, formerly incarcerated people who earned Bachelor's degrees saw a 5.6% recidivism rate, and those who earned Master's degrees had a recidivism rate of 0%.
That one study is a part of the reason why partnerships like the one between the Coding Dojo and Prison Scholar Fund exist.
The Black Information Network also caught up with Coding Dojo CEO Richard Wang to get more details on the collaboration.
"Our mission is about transforming lives through digital literacy," Wang shared of the global education technology company, later adding that while "talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not."
The Coding Dojo was founded in 2013 and focuses on a range of tech aspects from data science, cyber security, to web development and more, all in the name of getting people with no digital literacy backgrounds tech jobs.
The organization is no stranger to giving back and saw the collaboration with the Prison Scholar Fund as a way to assist formerly incarcerated people amid the pandemic, as tech jobs and skills become more coveted.
People in the program will get a 14-week intensive coding bootcamp –– with no prior coding knowledge required. Students are given necessary hardware and will receive a living stipend while they train.
And it doesn't stop there. After graduation, students will be able to apply the Microsoft LEAP apprenticeship for 16-weeks of on-the-job training.
If you or someone you know would be a good fit for this program, please click here to apply.