Amariz Canasa sits at a computer in a new high tech classroom at the California Institution for Women (CIW) in Chino.

Using a split screen she demonstrates the coding she used to create her website, and how making simple changes to the code changes its color and design.

The thirty-three year old said she “had no idea” about computer programming a month ago when she started taking classes. 

On the first day of class, she said she learned HTML and CSS and is now learning JavaScript.

The new program at the women’s prison is called Code 7370 The Last Mile.

The name comes from the Last Mile of the journey, the final steps of incarceration.

Ms. Canasa said she applied to increase her job marketability and was surprised that she was selected as one of 24 in the inaugural group of women in Chino.

The Last Mile program simulates a live coding environment without internet access, which is not available to the inmates.

Curriculum director Daniel Wheeler said archives  containing taped lectures, books, Wikipedia and other learning resources are provided through a private server. The program is self-paced and teachers are rarely used. Students also learn from peer mentorship, he added.

Inmates must have a GED diploma, take a written test and a logic test, and be interviewed before acceptance into the program.

The classes are five days a week from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

After 12 months training, program graduates are positioned to become software engineers.

The Last Mile was first implemented in the San Quentin men’s prison in 2013. The program is now in six prisons. Chino is the second women’s prison and Folsom was the first.

Speaking Thursday at a ribbon cutting ceremony, program co-founder Beverly Parenti said the U.S. is facing a projected 1 million unfilled web development jobs by 2020.

Prison officials and program developers said former graduates have gotten and kept jobs that pay significant wages, some of them in Northern California’s Silicon Valley.

“Everyone who has gone through the coding program hasn’t come back,” said Charles Pattillo, an officer with the Prison Industry Board. 

Roughly half of the state’s inmates who are released are re-incarcerated and job training is cheaper than incarceration, he said.

Ms. Canasa has taken computer classes in office programs and has been working on her associates degree in business.

Ms. Canasa said she will return to live with her family in San Jose when she is released from prison next year.

She said of all the classes she has taken in prison,  computer programming has given her the most confidence. 

She said for the first time, she is hopeful that she will be employable for a good job.

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