Above: M.C. Hammer and Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt share a laugh during Monday, Feb. 11, 2019's unveiling of an innovative computer coding program for inmates at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center.
MCLOUD, Okla. – Officials with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and several state and national nonprofits have unveiled a state-of-the-art coding program for inmates to help them obtain careers in technology once they release.
The computer coding program is the only one in Oklahoma, which is one of only four states to offer it, thanks to The Last Mile, The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, The George Kaiser Family Foundation and The Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation.
“We believe in second chances in Oklahoma,” Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said. “As your governor, I’m going to do everything I can to help you get integrated back into society.”
Dozens of press, corrections leaders, state leaders, business leaders, advocates and law enforcement professionals gathered inside MBCC’s visitation room for the ceremony, which included speeches from the governor, ODOC Director Joe M. Allbaugh, and grateful students of the program. Attendees also toured the classroom.
“Our addictions do not define us … And our success with the program will define us,” said program participant and MBCC inmate Chasity Choate.
The Last Mile began in December 2010 as a six-month entrepreneurship program at San Quentin State Prison in California. The program, which has since grown to 10 prisons in the United States, provides inmates with marketable skills in industries that will employ them after they release. TLM offered its first computer coding program in a prison in 2014.
Program students, who are not allowed on the internet while incarcerated, use a special software programming platform that mimics the internet while also giving them a live coding experience. Graduates in other states have gone on to produce mobile apps and other programs consumers use.
Participants cannot have a history of cyber or sex crimes, disciplinary infractions for at least 18 months and no life-without-parole sentences. They also must have a high school diploma or equivalent, and be within 36 months of release. Other requirements apply.
The ability to find work and earn a legitimate living post-incarceration plays a key role in keeping former offenders out of prison.
“This program gives our inmates something many have never had before – something to be proud of,” Allbaugh said. “With the skills this program imparts, these students can leave their felony past behind, no longer be defined by it, and become functioning, participating members of society.”
Aided in part by volunteers and partnerships, ODOC provides its inmates with high-school level courses, college courses, trade certifications, CareerTech training and other educational services. But it does not have the resources to offer what The Last Mile provides.
The program works by training students during two six-month segments. Graduates can get real-life work experience and earn pay while still in prison through TLM Works. TLM partners with tech companies to employ graduates after their release, continue their education and help them with re-entry.
The Last Mile has served more than 400 students to date – and those students have a zero-percent recidivism rate.