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North Dakota prison system launches new tech training for inmates

The program begun in San Quentin State Prison in California teaches self-paced web design applications

North Dakota State Penitentiary in Bismarck.

This Dec. 22, 2006 file photo shows a barbed wire fence surrounding a cell house at the North Dakota State Penitentiary in Bismarck.

AP Photo/Will Kincaid

By Jack Dura
The Bismarck Tribune

BISMARK, N.D. — North Dakota’s prison system has begun a technology training program to improve inmates’ job opportunities after release.

The Last Mile provides the training to 12 prisoners at the State Penitentiary in Bismarck, through a $250,000 contract funded by a federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act grant administered by Job Service North Dakota. The state’s Commerce Department and its Corrections and Rehabilitation Department also are grant partners.

The daily, six-hour classes began July 12. Eligible prisoners must meet several requirements, including the time commitment, and be within a certain window of their release.

The program begun in San Quentin State Prison in California teaches self-paced web design applications. It came to the attention of members of the North Dakota Workforce Development Council, including Penny Hetletved, director of education for Corrections, who serves on a subcommittee.

A lot of employers won’t hire felons, she said.

“Within cybersecurity and cyber design and web design, that is a market that they can employ across the nation,” she said.

Johnny Patrom is looking forward to his release this fall after serving a federal sentence since 2012 for bank robbery. He started on the program “basically from ground zero,” and hopes to continue his education after his release.

“This is just opening up doors that I never really saw with myself,” the 30-year-old said. He always saw himself doing manual labor.

The program’s contract runs through October 2022.

Ideally, the program would come to all of the state’s correctional facilities, according to Hetletved.

Job Service Workforce Services Director Phil Davis said, “If all goes well with the ultimate goal of employment, we will be looking for additional grant opportunities to fund this program.”

(c)2021 The Bismarck Tribune (Bismarck, N.D.)