st. Louis nonprofit LaunchCode has been helping Missouri inmates learn computer programming skills since 2018. The program has since evolved and expanded — and graduates who have been released have already begun to find jobs; LaunchCode’s Vice President of Impact Haley Shoaf says this is just the beginning.
Right now, we’re running a program with the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center. And this spring, we’re also expanding it to the Algoa Correctional Center, which is a medium-minimum security prison in Jefferson City,” Shoaf tells the RFT. “And we’re exploring what programs might look like beyond that, in particular, what it might look like to serve women in the program, as well.”
The pilot program began at the Potosi Correctional Center. The nonprofit then launched a more expanded version of the program this past summer. Karen Pojmann, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Corrections, says the facilities are thrilled to partner with LaunchCode; she adds that education and employment “play vital roles in helping to ensure post-incarceration success.”
“We are grateful to the LaunchCode team and proud of the hard work that staff and students in our facilities have invested in making this program work,” Pojmann says in an emailed statement to the RFT“especially the students who have completed the program, reentered the community and secured stable jobs that involve higher expansion education opportunities for incarcerated people.”
Shoaf recalls two standout program alumni, who now work at Access to Justice Tech. The company builds technology to make the legal and justice system more accessible. Shoaf describes the company as working to automate submissions for legal forms and helping people that are trying to get traction in the system; the company’s website says they “provide services at an affordable cost to offer innovative solutions to legal aid organizations, law firms, legal tech companies and users of the legal system.”
“That’s been really cool to see people that have been directly affected by the legal system [and] the justice system gain tech skills and then be able to use those tech skills to help solve problems that directly affected them,” Shoaf says.
Pojmann detailed that more than 95 percent of people that enter Missouri prisons are eventually released, and career training programs like these “not only help Missourians in the criminal-justice system build better futures for themselves and their families but also make our communities safer by reducing risk and recidivism.”
LaunchCode sees this program as a community movement and endeavor, Shoaf explains, and they want to see the program continue to grow. They’re looking for more people to get involved — employers, volunteers, and others.
The program matches one part of LaunchCode’s ethos, Shoaf explains, which is that talent is everywhere, but opportunities are not.
“It’s really exciting and rewarding to see more people be able to get access to opportunities in my work with this program to date and see that there’s so many talented [incarcerated] people who are hungry for opportunities,” Shoaf says. “To be able to provide an opportunity for people that can benefit from [LaunchCode] and be able to expand that opportunity to more people is really exciting.”
You can sign up to volunteer with LaunchCode at LaunchCode.org/JusTech.