November 3rd & 4th, 2023
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Programming in Prison: Web Development behind Bars

SeaGL 2017

In a plain-looking computer room sits 30+ men wearing khaki-colored shirts and pants, each staring intently at their monitors. Some young, some old, some with tattoos, all with different life stories. These men–many of which have never been on the Internet– are learning computer programming while serving time at Washington State’s second largest prison.

Gaining employment upon release from prison is one of the largest indicators of successful re-entry into society. With today’s booming tech market, these currently incarcerated men hope to gain the skills needed to obtain web development jobs upon release.

However, learning programming inside a prison isn’t easy. Each student computer is highly locked-down with limited software and absolutely no Internet access. While most programmers enjoy the benefits of Google and StackOverflow, these students must work with what is available on the classroom’s local network and in the outdated computer manuals available in the facility library.

My name is Sarabeth Jaffe and I teach computer programming at Monroe Correctional Complex. In this talk, I will discuss the many challenges of teaching web development without the web, the Open Source technology that makes it possible, and the many opportunities we–as technologists–have to spread the benefits of the technical knowledge to disadvantaged populations.


Sarabeth Jaffe

Sarabeth Jaffe