Tech News : Jail Coder Course Shows Positive Results

1st May 2024

US-based researchers have reported that the ‘Brave Behind Bars’ college-accredited, zoom-based web design course for prisoners has improved their sense of self-worth and given them digital literacy skills that help them stay out of prison.

Brave Behind Bars 

The 12-week Brave Behind Bars computer science and career-readiness program was expanded in 2022 to include 40 men and women from six US correctional facilities. The 2023 program was further expanded to support 55 incarcerated men and women from across the eastern United States.

The course teaches students to develop skills in digital literacy, web design, and career-readiness, through building websites to help address some of society’s most pressing issues.

The Brave Behind Bars program was launched by 3 PhD students in 2021 with the support of The Educational Justice Institute at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and MIT CSAIL (the largest lab at MIT). It became an independent nonprofit in 2023 and has been joined by two dozen affiliates who instruct and coach students.

Surveys 

In a recently published research paper entitled “From Prisons to Programming: Fostering Self-Efficacy via Virtual Web Design Curricula in Prisons and Jails”, the Brave Behind Bars researchers published the findings of surveys with participating students plus a second study to measure students’ general and computer self-efficacy both before and after completing the program.

The Findings 

The researchers reported that participants “overwhelmingly reported an increase in self-confidence, attributing their newfound self-belief to the course.”  The findings showed the transformative power of computing tools in enabling learners to realise their own capabilities, i.e. an increase in self-efficacy – a person’s belief in their capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments.

The researchers also reported that “the course also appeared to help individuals overcome their initial hesitations or shyness, contributing to increased self-efficacy” and that “the students also found great value in the real-world application of their skills, particularly in creating meaningful websites”.  Participants in the research also praised the inclusive and personalised nature of the instruction.

The research used both qualitative (interviews) and quantitative analysis to help determine its success and the researchers reported that the quantitative analysis showed that mean self-efficacy scores increased at the end of the course for both general and computer self-efficacy.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

The approach taken by the “Brave Behind Bars” program highlights both the role that education and digital literacy can play in transformative justice and sheds light on broader implications for the tech sector and business communities involved in similar initiatives. This research, carried out through partnerships with recognised institutions like MIT, shows the positive impact that targeted educational programs can have on people within carceral settings, e.g. by enhancing their self-efficacy (confidence), preparing them for reintegration into society, and potentially giving them something of value that they can use to break old patterns and move forward in a more positive direction.

For businesses, particularly those within the tech industry, the findings from the research offer a case for the integration of social responsibility in their business models. Companies may want to consider partnering with educational programs that aim to reduce a pattern of offending through skill development. This may not only contribute to societal benefits but could also help businesses tap into a diverse pool of talent who are eager to apply their newly acquired skills in real-world scenarios. Such engagement could also bolster a company’s brand image, help fulfill its corporate social responsibility objectives, and project a positive company image and values.

Also, for those who were involved in this research (from researchers to program facilitators), there’s now a clear pathway to further explore the scalability of similar initiatives. The positive outcomes suggest that similar programs could be replicated and tailored in different contexts, potentially impacting a broader spectrum of the incarcerated population (there are 2 million people in prison in the US alone). Expanding such programs could also drive more comprehensive data collection, aiding in refining educational techniques that enhance self-efficacy and, subsequently, employability.

From a tech sector perspective, the success of the Brave Behind Bars program indicates a growing intersection between technology, education, and social justice. Businesses in the tech industry have an opportunity to lead the way in innovating software and educational tools that are adaptable to various learning environments, including prisons. This could mean developing secure, scalable platforms that support remote learning (by Zoom as in this program) or creating content that is specifically geared towards increasing digital literacy and professional skills among underserved populations.

Given the significant challenges of deploying and studying education programs within carceral settings, the research conducted by the Brave Behind Bars initiative provides real value. It not only provides a blueprint for how educational programs can be effectively implemented in such challenging environments but it also demonstrates the significant role of education in increasing self-efficacy as a method to combat repeated offending. For businesses, this research offers a unique perspective on the power of education and technology to make a meaningful difference, advocating for increased involvement in correctional education as a tool for positive social impact.

Irrespective of the setting, increasing people’s self-efficacy via training can only be a good thing.