Tony Parker

Tony Parker is commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Correction.

Coding program for prisoners can produce skilled ex-offenders

By Published: May 31, 2019 7:17 AM CT

Gov. Bill Lee succinctly stated the central objective of his administration in his State of the State address in January: “Tennessee can and should lead the nation.”

In the five months since Lee took office, the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) has been working diligently to achieve it. 

The governor identified four key areas that must be addressed in order for Tennessee to realize this vision: outcome-focused education, criminal justice reform, expanded jobs in the technology sector, and unleashing the promise and potential of all Tennesseans.

<strong>Tony Parker</strong>

Tony Parker

We have aligned all of these objectives in what we believe is perfect symmetry with TDOC’s top priorities. 

One of our newest and most exciting vocational and technical education programs, and one that captures all four of the governor’s key objectives, prepares justice-involved individuals for access to one of the fastest growing job markets in the country: technology. 

TDOC has partnered with Persevere, a nonprofit organization based in Tennessee, to provide coding and educational resources that teach students, both in prisons and under community supervision, how to code. 

The coding program consists of a three phase, customizable, 2,100 hours of instruction tailored to the unique needs of incarcerated students. Students who can master the content more quickly can complete certifications more quickly. Instruction is provided through six modules, each leading to a valuable certification. After completing the third module the students earn the certification that permits them to begin real-world work, earning both money and valuable work experience.

Allowing students to work while they are still incarcerated supports the acquisition and development of their distinctive skillsets while they receive valuable on-the-job instruction and the support necessary to be successful. The money they earn can be used to contribute to their court fees and restitution, room and board while incarcerated, child support and family care as well as a mandatory savings account to facilitate housing and transportation needs once they are released.   

Persevere provides job search and placement services, life skills education, instruction in the soft skills necessary to get and keep a job, and entrepreneurial training for students intending to start their own businesses upon release. Job placement services are provided to match every graduate with a well-paying job in the technology sector. 

Students enrolled in the program speak in terms not often heard in prison. One student said: “I can’t find the words to express how thankful, grateful and blessed I am to be part of this program.” Another said: “I now have hope for my future.” And another: “I know that when I go home … I will be able to start a career in coding and be able to provide for myself and my daughter.” 

This matters to the residents of Memphis and Shelby County and all Tennesseans because this is a matter of public safety.  Education is the most affordable and effective correctional program in America. Education facilitates meaningful employment which is consistently associated with improved public safety, lower crime rates and the lowest rates of recidivism.

Gov. Lee noted that educational attainment can reduce the risk of recidivism for incarcerated people by up to 43 percent. Creating educational opportunities inside prison is efficient, effective, and its long-term benefits are substantial. 

The coding program is currently offered at three TDOC facilities in West Tennessee: the Mark Luttrell Transition Center in Memphis, West Tennessee State Penitentiary, and the Women’s Therapeutic Residential Center in Henning. As participants who have not yet completed all of the required certifications are released, they will be afforded the opportunity to continue their education at the TDOC Day Reporting Centers in Memphis and Jackson. 

To learn more about the Persevere coding program, as well as other sources of skilled ex-offenders, attend the Memphis forum on June 11 designed to connect Memphis area employers with sources of skilled, qualified ex-offenders who need jobs. Register for the forum at the University of Memphis Public Safety Institute here. Registration is free.


Tennessee Department of Correction

Comment On This Story

Email Editions

Sign up for our morning and evening editions, plus breaking news.