May 8, 2023 - News

The Last Mile, a prison-based coding school, set to expand options

The Last Mile alumnus Kenyatta Leal shakes hands with Jason Jones, who was celebrating his completion of the coding program at San Quentin in 2015. Photo: Michael Macor/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

An organization that got its start teaching entrepreneurship and coding at San Quentin State Prison in the San Francisco Bay Area has received funding to expand its offerings.

Why it matters: Many people who have been impacted by the criminal justice system don't have a fair chance upon reentering society, Chris Redlitz, co-founder of The Last Mile, told Axios.

  • "They're not really 'returned citizens' unless they're given the same opportunities as people who have not been incarcerated," he said.

Catch up quick: Established more than a decade ago, The Last Mile has helped alumni land jobs at businesses like Slack, Square, Zoom and Dropbox. Its programs are now in 16 facilities throughout seven states.

What's happening: The group recently received a $10 million investment from Citadel founder and CEO Ken Griffin and philanthropic group Stand Together Foundation to expand its technology training programs inside prisons, as well as conduct research on the programs’ efficacy.

  • The additional funding will enable The Last Mile to serve more people impacted by the justice system in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond, Redlitz said.
  • "We all want to live in safer, stronger communities, and it is my hope that scaling this work nationally and generating rigorous evidence about its impact will reduce crime and better our nation," Griffin told Axios via email.

Meanwhile, The Last Mile is developing five new education tracks across specialties like sales and entrepreneurship, in addition to the current coding and audio-video production programs, Redlitz said.

What they're saying: The Last Mile is still "very bullish on the fact that there is an opportunity within tech," Redlitz said. "Though we really feel like we need to touch a broader portion of the population."

By the numbers: Since its inception, The Last Mile has served 1,127 people inside criminal justice facilities, in addition to 449 formerly incarcerated people.

Between the lines: In March, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced San Quentin, one of the oldest prisons in California, would be transformed into a rehabilitation center for less dangerous prisoners by 2025, under the guidance of an advisory committee that will include Redlitz.

  • "The goal is to do some much more diverse and innovative things in prison," Redlitz said. "So we're in a good position to lend our expertise."

What to watch: The Last Mile hopes to be in at least 10 states by the end of the year and to double its footprint within the next three years.

  • The plan is to launch the new education courses next year.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to note that, according to The Last Mile, Ken Griffin (not Griffin Catalyst) joined Stand Together Foundation in a $10 million investment in the organization. Griffin is founder and CEO of Citadel (not founder of Griffin Catalyst). Per The Last Mile, it plans to double its footprint within the next three years (not seven years).

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