Prison education program focuses on computing skills for women

MIT computer scientists and mathematicians offer an introductory computing and career-readiness program for incarcerated women in New England.

A programming language textbook might not be the first thing you’d expect to see when walking into a correctional facility.

The creators of the Brave Behind Bars program are hoping to change that.

Founded in 2020, Brave Behind Bars is a pandemic-born introductory computer science and career-readiness program for incarcerated women, based out of The Educational Justice Institute at MIT (TEJI). It’s taught both online and in-person, and the pilot program brought together 30 women from four correctional facilities across New England to study web design.

One of the co-founders, Martin Nisser, a PhD student from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), explains the digital literacy and self-efficacy focused objectives: “Some of the women haven’t had the opportunity to work with a computer for 25 years, and aren’t yet accustomed to using the internet. We’re working with them to build their capabilities with these modern tools in order to prepare them for life outside,” says Nisser. Even for the students who became incarcerated more recently, it can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of technological advances, since technical programs in correctional facilities are few and far-between.

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