The government has invested £100,000 in an initiative to teach prisoners how to code, which aims to help them get work in digital roles upon release, and ultimately reduce reoffending rates.
The scheme is being run by not-for-profit, Code4000, which organises coding workshops in prisons.
The organisation recently carried out a “successful” trial with a group of “carefully vetted prisoners”, which has been running at Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) Humber in Yorkshire since the summer of 2017, according to the Government.
The scheme has now been expanded to HMP Holme House in Durham where it aims to reach more than 1,000 offenders, after receiving £100,000 funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
Code4000’s aim is to expand the scheme to more prisons across the country, according to a Government spokesperson, and has plans to set up workshops within a women’s prison and a young offenders’ institution, though the organisation has not yet revealed which ones.
“Crucial in expanding the talent pool”
Some digital professionals have welcomed the scheme, such as Ben Long, creative director at digital design studio Dare, who says it could be “crucial in expanding the talent pool” at a time when there are “more platforms, and more variations in coding languages than ever”.
“The creative industries have woken up to the fact that talent comes from all walks of life, and we need [enthusiastic] people to help drive the industry forward,” he says.
He adds that it is not only important for a wider range of people to learn coding languages, but also to be able to use these skills “creatively” to develop good user experiences.
“Rather than just getting a line of code to work, we need people to be thinking about how they can be creative with technology and how they can use it to solve challenges that are facing our industry,” he adds.
The coding scheme in the UK has been inspired by a similar initiative in the US known as the Last Mile project which trained around 500 offenders to code in San Quentin prison in California.
None of those who took part in the scheme have reoffended, according to the UK government, which says the national reoffending rate across the US is 55%.
The Government’s minister for digital, Margot James, says that employment is a key factor in reducing reoffending.
“Equipping offenders with coding skills will help them into life-changing work and give them a path to a hugely rewarding career,” she says.
“We have a world-leading digital economy and this new funding will help keep people out of prison, so they can give back to their local communities as well as boost our tech businesses,” she adds.
From workshops to the real world
The coding programme has four stages. First, coding workshops are run in rooms inside prisons by Code4000 staff and volunteers, in a supervised environment.
Prisoners can complete the course at their own pace, and can take part in up to nine workshop sessions per week.
The second stage involves working on real-world, paid projects for external clients from within the prison. The third stage sees those who have been successful on the programme be granted day-release to work for clients outside the prison.
The fourth stage aims to support the prisoners to get full-time employment as developers, upon their release.
The £100,000 grant will also go towards funding an employment hub in Sheffield, which will provide support, training and mentoring to former prisoners who took part in the programme.
The funding comes at the same time as a further £1 million investment by the DCMS into the Digital Skills Innovation Fund, an initiative which aims to get more people from underrepresented groups into digital jobs by providing training.
This funding will support a range of schemes and workshops across the UK aimed at groups including women from disadvantaged backgrounds, people from lower socioeconomic areas and people with autism, among others, in a bid give more people the opportunity to get into roles such as development and digital marketing.