Dreaming of Code

Would you hire a Convict?

November 02, 2015

A proposed solution to the Mass Incarceration problem

I've been hearing a lot about the mass incarceration problem in the news recently and have been doing a bit of thinking about a solution to this problem. As a software engineer, that's what I do - solve problems. I can't say I'm the best at solving social issues, so solving this problem is a challenge.

The problem is that there are many non-violent drug offenders who were convicted of a federal offense and punished with absurdly long prison sentences which should be considered petty offenses. Once a person has a record like this, than they can pretty much give up hope on making an honest decent living, so once they get out, then it's back to the streets again.

I'm sure that many companies perform background checks, but I do believe that that tech industry is one that disregards backgrounds when considering hiring software developers and engineers. The main question when considering a potential employee is "What have you built?". If that person could show you me really sick projects, then I would overlook the fact that it said "Federal Prison: 5 years" on his or her resume. To me it would be no different from a person who has "MIT" on their resume. An MIT grad would still need to show me what they are capable of.

Offering a training program

I've heard the solution of offering training programs to inmates to prepare them for jobs on the outside, but it still seems that most of these programs are related to certain trades that require manual labor and are not the most desirable jobs. Trades are typically easy to learn, but I realize that software engineering is not as simple to learn. It does take time and persistence, but like they say - "You've got time". My solution is to offer a training program similar to a lot of the development bootcamps that have been popping over the years.

Providing computers for the program would be expensive, but refurbished machines could be used to lower the cost. Finding instructors may be difficult as well, since it may not pay as well as most engineering positions. I would say that funding would need to come from a Non-Profit organization, but you could also incorporate real world projects into the program. Small Business owners and Non-profit organizations could potentially reap the benefits of supporting a program like this. The end result could be a shiny new website at a low cost. Startup companies could even offer job placement opportunities to encourage motivation to succeed in the program.

Where to take it from here

I would like to go more in depth into figuring out the logistics of offering a program like this, but I'm stuck. Is there a program like this that exists? Is a program like this feasible? Would you hire a Convict? I would like to open up the question to the community to see what your answer to the question is and if you think a program like this would help prisoners make a decent living once they get out and not end up back in prison.