Brave Behind Bars: Career-Readiness Program for Incarcerated Women

By Michele Chadwick & Matthew Torres

Cambridge, MA – Two Ph.D. students founded a college-accredited, introductory computer science and career-readiness program for incarcerated women called Brave Behind Bars. Their pilot program allows women to study web design is taught online and in-person across multiple correctional facilities in New England.

Their objective is to advocate for digital literacy and self-efficacy.

“Some of the women haven’t had the opportunity to work with a computer for 25 years and aren’t yet accustomed to using the internet,” explained Martin Nisser, co-founder and Ph.D. student at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

He added, “We’re working with them to build their capabilities with these modern tools in order to prepare them for life outside.”

Brave Behind Bars was developed while Nisser was working at The Education Justice Institute at MIT (TEJI) in a meeting with his two future co-founders, Marisa Gaetz and Emily Harburg.

Marisa Gaetz is a Ph.D. student from MIT’s Department of Mathematics, and Emily Harburg is the co-founder of Brave Initiatives, a nonprofit that develops coding boot camps for young women.

With the lack of preparatory programs being a factor in a rising recidivism rate, educational programs that emphasize digital literacy could effectively combat that. Some studies show correctional education programs reduce the odds of recidivating by 43 percent.

The nascent curriculum is tailored to emphasize practical skills utilized in the workplace.

The main parts revolve around core technical skills, career-readiness skills, and a capstone project that teaches the fundamentals of web programming and digital literacy.

The introductory web program intends to teach the students to build websites using core coding skills in HTML, CSS, and Javascript. The foundation of the course is a capstone project that allows students to pick an issue they are passionate about and then build a website that addresses their issue.

A number of the women in the pilot program chose to build their websites addressing domestic violence.

As many of the students have struggled personally with domestic violence, they built websites that can serve as support forums linked to emergency hotlines and other resources for those seeking help.

The career-readiness portion of the curriculum helps the students present their skills to employers through various means, including CV writing, presentation, and public speaking.

Additionally, this portion of the curriculum emphasizes relevant technological career paths.

The class faces logistical challenges as it spans across four facilities.

Other challenges include the differences in student privileges with some students not allowed internet access or personal laptop use. Despite these challenges, the students are not deterred.

Like most introductory courses, the readiness and knowledge of students vary vastly between individuals.

“Many of the concepts we teach are completely new to many of the students. There’s definitely a steep learning curve for the material, but there’s an equally big appetite for it, and these women are some of the most engaged students I’ve worked with,” says Nisser.

“It was the first time this course was offered, and they worked tirelessly to overcome the technical and logistical challenges they faced.”

The program hopes to instill in the students coding skills and an interest in a field that could provide employment.

Nisser explains, “One of our goals with the program was to instill confidence in the students that there exists a range of careers open to them that they might never previously have had the opportunity to consider for themselves.”

“In the future, I think teaching the foundations of a tangible discipline like robotics is a great way to catalyze interest in other technical careers as well,” added Nisser.

In the future, Nisser explains, “we’d like to focus on computing skills that students can go out and utilize to secure employment directly too. We’ll spend the next few months thinking about what exactly those skills could be.”

About The Author

Michele is a senior at UC Santa Barbara from Los Angles County.

Related posts

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for