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Convicts to Coders: Tennessee Women's Prison to launch inmate coding bootcamp this month
Inmate participants will earn a full-stack developer certification at the end of the 12-month program
Nearly half of all people released from prison in Tennessee are back behind bars within three years. But training programs like Persevere help break that cycle and prepare people for successful lives outside of prison.
Beginning this month, the program will be offered to inmates at the Tennessee Women's Prison, located off Stewarts Lane in north Nashville. The first cohort will include 15 women.
Founded in 2014, Persevere is a justice organization that aims to convert convicts into coders. The organization’s 12-month coding bootcamp equips prisoners with highly-sought after technical skills, so they can re-enter the workforce and earn a stable living. The program is funded by federal and state grants and donations from individuals and businesses.
Persevere serves correctional facilities in five states — Tennessee, Arizona, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. Its programming is currently offered to inmates in four other Tennessee facilities — Mark Luttrell Correctional Center, West Tennessee State Penitentiary, Women’s Therapeutic Residential Center and Trousdale Turner Correctional Complex.
“People who have spent time in jail or prison often face barriers to accessing stable jobs, housing and financial services,” says Persevere founder and director Sean Hosman. “These types of barriers are a key driver of recidivism.”
Hosman can personally attest. The addict turned serial entrepreneur was arrested 12 times between 2010 and 2012.
“Just as my career was becoming the most successful it had ever been, I unfortunately became an alcoholic and a drug addict,” Hosman says. “In July 2012, when I made the decision to get clean and sober, I knew that I wanted to lift others up and out of this vicious cycle. Technology was the best way to do that.”
The recidivism rate of inmates who complete Perservere’s program is less than 2-percent. On average, program graduates are employed within two weeks of being released from prison, Hosman says, and earn a starting salary between $55,000 - $60,000 annually.
“It’s a very intense program,” Hosman explains.
Participants will spend more than 1,500 hours learning front end and back end development during the year-long course. Classes are held in-person, six hours a day, five days a week and are taught by a full-time instructor and teaching assistant.
In many cases, Hosman says, the teaching assistant is a Persevere program graduate who is waiting to be released from prison (and find work) or a graduate who is serving a life sentence.
Upon completing the program, inmates receive a full-stack developer certification that is accredited by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. Full-stack developers are one of the most in demand positions in the industry, according to TechCrunch.
With this certification, inmates are also employable for a variety of other high-paying positions including scrum master, web designer, technical writer and tech support specialist.
85 percent of participants who enroll in Perservere’s program graduate, Hosman says. He accredits the success rate to the course’s application and vetting process which is similar to the college application process and includes essays, aptitude tests and recommendations.
Perservere’s graduates have gone one to work for companies such as Indeed, Bounteous, Cornbread Hustle, Banyan Labs, Vant4ge and others. Hosman says he is currently in talks with Next Chapter — a justice organization that seeks to place formerly incarcerated people in tech jobs.
“A partnership with Next Chapter would open the door to companies like Slack, Zoom, DropBox, Square and Affirm.”
To date more than 400 Tennessee inmates have completed Perservere’s program, since it was first introduced to the tri-star state in 2019. Hosman is proud of the program’s progress and hopes to continue expanding the organization’s efforts.
“Tech is the stepping stone to stability,” Hosman says. “It brings people real hope, valuable skills and meaningful opportunity.”