A Tech Education Solution Combats Mass Incarceration

Aedan Macdonald, a “special needs” student for 11 of his 12 years of primary school hated his early, middle and high school education. It was not until he was incarcerated that he discovered his love for learning. While still incarcerated, he did so well in his studies that he was accepted to the School of General Studies at Columbia University .

While a Columbia student, Macdonald founded and became program manager for Justice Through Code, a program supported by Columbia’s Center for Justice and the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise at Columbia Business School.

Stunned at the lack of sustainable opportunities for returning citizens, Macdonald was determined to correct a societal wrong. He paid his debt for his mistakes but he felt our society is so unforgiving it thwarts him, and many like him, from housing, living-wage jobs, voting, and so much more.

77% of people released from prison return after five years. The cost to keep one person incarcerated in New York for one year is $69,355.

Justice Through Code participants

The free Justice Through Code program introduces returning citizens to Python, a software language developed by Guido van Rossum while he worked at Google. It was adopted by most coders as the current lingua franca for software developers.

Learning Python can serve as as a stepping stone to other educational tech programs and possibly lead to a sustainable job in the tech industry. “Coding is the great equalizer,” says entrepreneur and Columbia Business School adjunct professor, Mattan Griffel. “Anyone can learn it as long as they have the interest and the resources,” he says.

Entrepreneur and Columbia Business School Adjunct Professor, Mattan Griffel teaches Python to JTC participants.

Antwan, a Justice Through Code participant, said the program gives him a way to break in to the tech industry. When he returned home, the only jobs he could find were below minimum wage gigs like pizza and medical specimen delivery. Those jobs made him doubly depressed because he was unable to make ends meet and not able to use his engineering background. He would have to “check the box” on his incarceration and would be turned down for any meaningful job.

Below we feature seven one-minute profiles on the students, one of the teachers, Mattan Griffel and Aedan Macdonald, founder of Justice Through Code. It is through their stories we begin to change the hearts and minds of our returning citizens and our society.

The debt for these returning citizens has been paid. It’s now up to us to harness this impressive talent pipeline and let them be the future tech leaders they deserve to be.

To learn more visit Justice Through Code

Essential Resources for Returning Citizens

11 Best Entry-Level Tech Jobs

CareerOneStop: Job Search for Ex-Offenders: Sort resources by state

Defy Ventures: Assist returning citizens with entrepreneurship and small businesses.

Legal Action Center: Re-Entry job rights, advocacy on RAP sheets and much more.

How to Break into the Tech Industry, A Guide to Job Hunting and Tech Interviews, VC Hasseb Qureshi

LinkedIn Learning, an online tech teaching platform,  can be accessed through the NYC public library system.  The card is free.  Apply online at the NY Public Library website.

Job Interview Tips for Returning Citizens

Finance Guide for Formerly Incarcerated People: Money Geek’s useful resources for jobs, opening a bank account, managing debt and more.

New York Public Library 2022 Connections for Returning Citizens (Essential: Jobs, Housing, Health etc.)

Grace Institute: Developing career paths and job skills for low-income women ages 18-64.

Resume Tips for Returning Citizens

Break Into Tech: A useful free course on breaking into tech.

IBM Tech Re-Entry Program

Free Ivy League Online Courses

Justice Through Code: Learn to code, excel and other office skills to land sustainable jobs.

STRIVE: Helps returning citizens develop job skills and find meaningful, sustainable employment.

Yale Law School Access Program: A pipeline program for former incarcerated citizens to enter law school. Targeted to New Haven, CT residents, but apply anyway.

One Month Coding Courses: $299 for One-Year Subscription (Founded by Entrepreneur and Columbia Business School Adjunct Professor, Mattan Griffel)

New York Health & Hospital Peer Academy: Pipeline for returning citizens to enter healthcare.

National Hire Network

Center for Employment Opportunities

Useful Tech and Leadership Books

Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

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