Program teaches ex-cons learn programming skills to land better-paying jobs

A free program out of Columbia University is working to give ex-cons a helping hand by teaching them the skills to land better-paying jobs.

Video Transcript

- For people who have spent time behind bars, getting back on their feet can be a challenge, but a free program at Columbia University looks to give ex-cons a helping hand by teaching them skills to land better paying jobs. Eyewitness News Race and Culture reporter, Crystal Cranmore with more.

- I made up for it 10 years ago that still haunt me to this day.

CRYSTAL CRANMORE: [? Deshawn, ?] who chose not to share his last name, says after a decade of freedom, he's still paying for the year he spent in prison.

- Once the background check comes up, it becomes an issue.

CRYSTAL CRANMORE: While he's been able to get jobs over the years--

- It's been employment that's barely over minimum wage.

- So [INAUDIBLE] is going to be equal to--

CRYSTAL CRANMORE: Enter Justice Through Code, a free but highly competitive program at Columbia University for formerly incarcerated men and women. A whole new world into the realm of programming. It started last spring.

AEDAN MACDONALD: In a few months you can develop a skill set that can provide you a pathway to a high wage career.

CRYSTAL CRANMORE: Aedan Macdonald is the founder and director of the program. Drawing on his own experience in the prison system, Macdonald worked with the University's Center for Justice to develop a plan to help turn the tide on the country's recidivism rate.

AEDAN MACDONALD: Even though re-entry was very difficult, it was easier for me than it would be for people of color who are returning home.

CRYSTAL CRANMORE: According to the Center for Justice, overall, 77% of people released from prison in the United States are rearrested within five years. Among the estimated 5 million formerly incarcerated people, about 27% are unemployed and the medium yearly income three years after release, less than $11,000.

CRYSTAL CRANMORE: What do we know about the long term effects these statistics have?

AEDAN MACDONALD: If you look at the bottom 10% of earners in this country, their sons are 20 times more likely to end up incarcerated.

CRYSTAL CRANMORE: A perpetual cycle Macdonald hopes to break all while closing a large diversity gap in technology. Opening new doors for people like [? Deshawn, ?] who's also a graduate of John J Criminal College.