Event | Alumni Affairs

Learning to Code: Alumni Reflect on Their Experience in BPI’s Restart Program

BPI launched Restart in 2018 through the generous support of the National Science Foundation to build bridges between computer science training in prison and computer science entrepreneurialism after prison. Through the Restart program, BPI explored the question: “does informal learning offer an under-utilized pathway for people to discover and develop interest, skills, and careers within STEM?”

The learning communities provided by informal STEM education help build economic inclusion of individuals and the social development of neighborhoods hardest hit by mass incarceration. Through Restart, BPI developed a model that can be a resource in other college-in-prison programs and communities across the United States that seek to address economic and educational inequalities of post-incarceration life. The Restart model will help college-in-prison programs and community-based organizations serving recently-released men and women build capacities and engage opportunities in technical skills, community regeneration, and professional development and entrepreneurship.

Recently, members of the BPI Reentry and Alumni Affairs team spoke with alumni of the Restart program about how informal stem learning and computer science can help revitalize distressed communities and provide incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people more effective pathways into computer science and technology careers. Check it out!

Restart‘s computer science education program operated in two New York State prisons with computer science labs and through a series of workshops hosted by community-based organizations.

With the challenges of reentry in mind, Restart established informal STEM learning communities that:

  • Increase computer science fluency inside the prison
  • Increase creativity application of computer science after prison
  • Apply innovation as an engine for community development and vocational success 

The project partnered with Emergent Works (formerly Code Cooperative), which supports technology career building for directly impacted people, serving as a connection between organizations providing general reentry support to Emergent Works resources. This project offered introductory workshops and peer coaching that sparked interest in careers in technology and connected participants to further opportunities. One participant was recently accepted into Columbia University’s Justice Through Code program.

In September 2019, the project convened a meet-up with more than fifty computer science professionals—some with and some without experience in the criminal legal system—and people interested in the intersection of criminal justice and computer science. The gathering was the culmination of a year of network-building and connected participants to career and continuing education opportunities in the field. The event also reflected ongoing work to destigmatize histories of incarceration for technology professionals and demystify careers in technology for people with criminal legal experience.  Providing participants from traditionally underrepresented groups in science and technology fields—including race, class, and gender—with opportunities to attain fluency in the practical work and theoretical principles of computer science strengthens their ability to contribute to their communities upon reentering the 21st-century economy.