When Google.org funneled $2 million into The Last Mile (TLM) in 2018, the business wanted to expand prison computer coding programs from Silicon Valley into the Midwest. This according to Maab Ibrahim, a Google.org program manager, in an interview with The Center Square.
Part of Google’s investment flowed to Jackson’s Parnall Correctional Facility, where 19 inmates are learning how to code without Internet access.
This grant expanded the program from San Quentin State Prison in California to prisons in Indiana, Kansas and Michigan.
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II said at a press conference last week that this program benefits inmates and all of Michigan.
“It’s our responsibility to work with partners, to work with institutions to use every tool at our disposal to ensure we are maximizing the potential for every person in the state of Michigan,” Gilchrist said. “This program is a clear articulation of that standard.”
Ibrahim told The Center Square they chose to work with TLM because of its connection with entrepreneurship programs and the founders’ history of helping 14 companies grow through a business incubator.
Beverly Parenti, a co-founder of TLM, told The Center Square multiple factors, including her husband’s persistence, high levels of prison spending and discouraging recidivism data convinced her to build the company.
“I see the same look in their eyes as I see in the men and women we help on the outside of prison,” Parenti quoted her husband Chris Redlitz, the other co-founder.
“Some of these men never even had a job,” Parenti said, adding that many were entrepreneurs who “just chose the wrong business model.”
Parenti said coding is project-based, which allows employers to judge work quality instead of the stigma of a criminal record.
Parenti said the prison system was a “bad investment” because it cost $67,000 per year to incarcerate a prisoner in California in 2010. She said the recidivism rate was 60 percent within three years.
“That’s a really bad investment and a bad use of taxpayer money,” Parenti said.
California was spending five times more on incarceration than higher education, Parenti said, adding that those dollars would be spent better on education for under served communities so they have a “first chance.”
Parenti said TLM’s goal is to provide prisoners with marketable skills that result in gainful employment post-prison. They started training prisoners in business and entrepreneurship. They subsequently expanded their program to computer coding in 2014.
The coding program is “highly selective,” Parenti said. Application requirements include no behavioral infractions for 18 months prior to applying and a GED or better, Parenti said, plus an application including essay questions, an in-person interview and a recommendation from the prison administration.
“You have to work hard to get in, and you have to work hard to be there,” Parenti said, adding that TLM has a zero-tolerance infraction policy during the one-year program.
Parenti said the TLM program works within 17 prison classrooms across five states, with a zero percent recidivism rate.
About 700 people have been in the program’s classroom, which is currently training about 250 current inmates, Parenti said.
Some of TLM’s alumni are working for big technology companies, pulling six-figure salaries straight out of prison.
Michigan taxpayers in 2017 paid $478 million on county jails and other corrections costs.