Coding bootcamp helps some Arizona inmates prep for high tech jobs

Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 11:22 AM MST
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TUCSON (13 NEWS) - Arizona is packed with prisoners. Our inmate population is eighth in the nation, reflecting a 500 percent increase over the last 40 years, according to the Vera Institute.

The state’s new corrections chief has said he’ll look at innovative programs, like one in Tucson. It’s keeping people out of prison with job training that’s paying off for businesses, the community, and former inmates, like Blaine Reid.

“Every waking moment I could, I studied coding - I would write code with a dry-erase marker on my lockers,” Reid said.

Never a computer guy before he went to prison for nine years on a drug conviction, Blaine found his passion there. With the help of a program called Persevere, Blaine cracked the code for his own future.

Inmates learn tech skills in boot camp before they're released
Inmates learn tech skills in boot camp before they're released(Persevere)

“It’s definitely life-changing. Learning an actual skill that can lead to good pay six figures is amazing,” Reid said. “For those types of things, no one has a reason to go back.”

Reid says Persevere gives inmates that reason to go forward.

Out of two thousand inmates, he was selected for a one-year technology training boot camp that taught him interview and networking skills. Callie Unruh is the program director.

“Formerly incarcerated folks are like 60 percent more likely to stay at an organization,” Unruh said, “And worker happiness is increased... 30 or 40 percent.”

She says Arizona’s recidivism rate is about 60 percent. For Persevere graduates, that drops to 1.5 percent.

“No one should be defined by the worst thing they’ve ever done,” Unruh added.

Companies in a labor crisis are warming to the idea of this untapped pool of candidates. Reid worked with a recruiter to land a highly-paid internship at a background check company. When it became a full-time gig, he bought his family a new house - for their new life.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier,” Reid said.

Persevere’s philosophy is that building safer communities means disrupting cycles of poverty and incarceration that can run for generations. Reid shares the sentiment.

“Reduce crime... you have grateful workers, more workers. All around, it’s a win-win,” Reid said.

Now that he feels like he’s on that winning side, Blaine’s purpose - is to persevere.

“Life is absolutely amazing.”

Persevere is in four Arizona prisons right now. One of them is Whetstone in Tucson. With the support of the new Arizona Department of Corrections Director, they hope to add a fifth soon. KOLD reached out to the director to discuss that, but he did not have time for an interview.

Persevere also has posted information about employer benefits.

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