MIT program brings computer science education to students at the D.C. Jail

Last week, incarcerated students at the D.C. Jail graduated from Brave Behind Bars, a new computer science program offered by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), The Washington Post reports. Run by The Educational Justice Institute (TEJI) at MIT, the 12-week career-readiness program teaches incarcerated students digital literacy and web design skills, including basic coding languages like JavaScript and HTML.

Brave Behind Bars further expands the educational opportunities available to students at the D.C. Jail, where Georgetown University’s Prisons and Justice Initiative (PJI) since 2018 has offered a range of credit-bearing and non-credit courses through its Prison Scholars Program. This year PJI also expanded the program, launching a bachelor’s degree track at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup, Maryland.

Related: Georgetown welcomes incarcerated students to Maryland bachelor’s degree program >

Access to ‘transferable, employable skills’

TEJI began Brave Behind Bars last year with an inaugural cohort of 25 women from four correctional facilities across New England. This summer, the program included 40 men and women from six correctional facilities across the east coast, including men at the D.C Jail and women incarcerated in Maine. Founders of Brave Behind Bars say the program will prepare incarcerated students and returning citizens for re-entry and reduce recidivism. 

“The level of 21st century technology skills they just learned, I can’t do those things,” Amy Lopez, deputy director of college and career readiness for the D.C. Department of Corrections, tells The Post. “They are transferable, employable skills.”

Rochell Crowder, a 57-year-old D.C. native who has been in and out of incarceration for almost four decades, graduated from the Brave Behind Bars program last week. His certificate of completion, he said, “is a step in the right direction.”

A call for more higher education outreach to incarcerated students

Meanwhile, expanding higher education’s presence in correctional facilities was the focus of a conference earlier this month. At the second annual Rise Up Conference, advocates discussed the impact of prison education on both educators and students and called for additional educational opportunities for the incarcerated, Diverse Issues in Higher Education reports.

At the conference, Ricardo Zepeda, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Guadalajara, and Danny Murillo, a master’s student at California State University, Long Beach, shared ways they are hoping to help formerly incarcerated students continue their studies after they have been deported to another country, like Mexico. Zepeda and Murillo’s research finds that formerly incarcerated students facing deportation are uniquely at-risk for recidivism. “People are being recruited into organized crime as soon as they get off the bus [in Mexico],” says Murillo. “If we don’t have pathways to support them in Mexico, it will continue to impact the U.S.”

Incarcerated students and prison education advocates also shared how they are working together to create supportive programs. To help close the school-to-prison-pipeline and reduce the recidivism rate, D’Quinta Uzzle, a graduate of the University of Baltimore’s Second Chance College Program, created The Hope, Opportunity, Second chances, and Exhilaration (HOSE) program with Dr. Mark C. Booker, a University of Baltimore adjunct professor in the Second Chance College Program.

For Uzzle, broadening higher education access to incarcerated students is imperative to their rehabilitation and reentry. “Getting higher education in prison needs to be immediate, and it needs to be accessible to prisoners all over the U.S,” Uzzle tells Diverse Issues in Higher Education. “Once people like me know we can do better, we will do better.”

Topics in this story

Next Up

Report: Transfer student enrollment fell 13.5% in last two years

Fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to disrupt transfer student pathways, especially among students over age 20, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.