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Mont. prison considering computer programming training for inmates

Recently visited California prisons to review programs designed to help train inmates for work in fields in which employers can’t attract enough qualified staff

By Amy Beth Hanson
Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. — The Department of Corrections is looking at adding computer programming classes to state prison education programs to improve inmates’ chances of getting jobs when they finish their sentences, the agency said Monday.

Two administrators with the department and the state’s chief information technology officer recently visited the Folsom and San Quentin state prisons in California and reviewed programs designed to help train inmates for work in fields in which employers can’t attract enough qualified staff.

San Quentin partners with technology-based business to offer a computer coding program aimed at training software developers.

Gayle Lambert, administrator with Montana Correctional Enterprises, said the state is developing a plan to add the computer coding classes and is searching for resources, which could include partnerships with businesses.

“In Montana, we recognize that a vital part of preparing inmates for re-entry in the 21st Century has to include introducing new technologies,” Corrections Director Mike Batista said in a statement. “We’re interested in this program because it gives inmates a better chance of finding meaningful work and a more realistic opportunity to pay back any restitution they owe their victims, while also helping employers find the trained employees their businesses need.”

Lambert said she hoped the coding program could be added at both the men’s and women’s prisons, both of which also offer basic education so inmates can take a high school equivalency exam.

The Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge also offers vocational programs such as auto and diesel mechanics, auto body repair, welding and motor vehicle maintenance along with work on a cattle and dairy ranch, manufacturing furniture, work in the kitchen and sewing inmate clothing.

The Montana Women’s Prison in Billings previously offered computer certification classes and currently offers sewing and embroidery classes and companion dog training.

Folsom has a computer-aided design class similar to one being offered at the men’s prison in Montana, said John Daugherty, administrator with the department’s Information Technology Division.

“What we saw in the two California prisons confirmed that the long-term goals we have for training Montana inmates in computer programming can, with adequate staff resources, become a reality,” Daugherty said.

The state has also talked with Colorado prison officials about its computer networking class, Daugherty said.