Did a Couple of Tech Entrepreneurs Just Fix Society's Crime Problem?

Eddie Griffin went to state prison in the '90s, after his cocaine addiction led him to three possession convictions—qualifying him for a penalty of 25 years to life under a now-defunct section of California's three-strikes law. He was sentenced to 27 to life. Such lengthy sentences are enough to stunt a convict's professional future and make for a difficult socialization into the world beyond the bars of San Quentin State Prison.

That alienation often results in ex-cons failing at gainful employment, leading to the high rates of ex-convicts returning to crime and beyond that, to a perpetually unsafe society and budgets crippled by judicial and prison costs. The situation needs a smart solution. Tech entrepreneurs Chris Redlitz and Beverly Parenti had people like Griffin in mind when they developed "The Last Mile," a program that introduces inmates to tech start-ups and instills confidence by teaching basic tech skills. 

Along with Kenyatta Leal, who spent 19 years in prison, Redlitz and Parenti created "The Last Mile," which teaches San Quentin prisoners business and entrepreneurial skills and places them in a paid internship program with Bay Area technology companies.

The program is named for the difficult transition from prison to successful livelihoods outside those walls. Nor is it just about fixing the criminal justice system: The program aims to improve the number of African American, Latino, and Native American participants in technology fields, where they are deeply underrepresented. 

While new federal guidelines to combat the school-to-prison pipeline aim to prevent the rise in incarceration rates, "The Last Mile" attempts to restore the social and vocational skills that have been lost as a result of long-term imprisonment. Among the startling facts the program encountered early on was that many inmates were incarcerated before the Internet existed.  

Participants go through a six-month program, meeting with the start-ups twice a week to learn about taking their tech-business ideas from paper to potential investors. Tech notables such as Guy Kawasaki and Half.com founder Josh Kopelman have been program mentors. 

Because social media is inescapable, inmates also learn how to build their brand and online presence. Volunteers then upload their messages for them, because inmates do not have full-time Internet access. 

The program concludes with an event called “Demo Day,” in which each participant pitches a business idea to an audience that includes potential investors. That's where Griffin, a 2013 graduate of the program, pitched his "At the Club" app, which offers live-streaming jazz performances.  

After Proposition 36 changed three-strikes laws to only apply to violent felons or those convicted of serious crime, Griffin was resentenced and released in July 2013. He now works as a junior developer at Mindjet.

To ensure the model can be replicated elsewhere, Redlitz and Parenti recently tried the "Last Mile” program at the Los Angeles County Jail, where they will have a Demo Day next month, Forbes reported. 

The two plan to take their program nationwide.

Related stories on TakePart:

A Jump in California Crime Rates May Blow It for National Prison Reform

California Bad Dreamin’: Innocent, Convicted and Locked Behind Bars

College Kids and Inmates Take Classes Together...Inside Prisons

Five Prison Charities Helping Inmates Give Back

Original article from TakePart