The Last Mile
Pitch your solution.
TLM is committed to breaking the cycle of incarceration by teaching the skills today’s job market demands inside prisons. In the US, 75% of formerly incarcerated people still lack full-time employment one year after their release. This fuels America’s recidivism rate, which is over 60%. TLM is a program in which incarcerated students learn high-demand skills, such as web development, qualifying them for meaningful employment upon release. As TLM progresses, we’re expanding our solution to include vocational skills of other growing fields, such as audiovisual production. To date, we’ve seen 0% recidivism among TLM graduates who’ve reentered society -- a testament to our belief that gainful employment is the key to breaking the cycle of incarceration. In scaling further, TLM will continue to positively impact lives by offering those who are incarcerated the opportunity to learn the hard and soft skills necessary to achieve a well-paying job after their release.
What specific problem are you solving?
The lack of adequate professional growth opportunities inside prisons makes incarceration a cyclical problem. This issue disproportionately impacts lower-class communities of color -- of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in the US, over 60% are from Black and Latino communities. The median pre-prison income among incarcerated adults is $20,800, over 50% less than the average US adult’s annual income. For people who enter prison lacking marketable skills, their ability to secure a well-paying job is even slimmer post-incarceration, due to the stigma associated with criminal records. Because of antiquated and insufficient programming, the incarcerated population is rarely able to gain the technical and digital skills valued by today’s job market, making it difficult for people to secure a livable income upon their release. The Last Mile is addressing this by equipping justice-involved people--a diverse, and traditionally marginalized population--with competitive, marketable skills.
What is your solution?
TLM offers career-oriented education inside prisons, along with post-incarceration mentorship, to help people get good jobs after their release. TLM’s vocational training for high-demand jobs has proven to increase social mobility, open career pathways, and reduce recidivism.
The program is designed for scaled implementation; TLM students across the country are taught remotely by an instructor who video conferences into in-prison classrooms to engage with students in real time. In the classroom, students complete coursework through our LMS, a sans internet platform created by TLM specifically for incarcerated students. The LMS adheres to correctional institutions’ security requirements while serving as a central location for TLM instructors to remotely interact with students, assign and grade coursework, and track individuals’ progress.
After completing TLM’s program, individuals are qualified to apply for employment as full-stack programmers upon their release from prison.
Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?
TLM serves America’s incarcerated population, in turn also serving the marginalized communities from which most incarcerated individuals come from. Of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in the US, over 60% are from Black and Latino communities. The median pre-prison income among incarcerated adults is $20,800 -- over 50% less than the average US adult’s annual income. By equipping those who are incarcerated with the hard and soft skills necessary for gainful employment after release, TLM offers individuals new career pathways that would not have otherwise been available to them.
Founded at San Quentin in 2010, TLM has grown and evolved based on input from current and formerly incarcerated people since its inception. The justice-impacted population is directly represented in our organization; TLM regularly hires formerly incarcerated people who then contribute to the development of our curriculum and support services. Further, TLM’s program continues to be refined and expanded according to the feedback and performance of our students and graduates.
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?
Match current and future employer and industry needs with education providers, workforce development programs, and diverse job seekers
Explain how the problem, your solution, and your solution’s target population relate to the Reimagining Pathways to Employment in the US Challenge and your selected dimension.
TLM offers in-prison career training in accordance with job market demand; our core curriculum is web development because the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects this field to grow at an above-average rate of 8% over the next decade. In Q1 2021, TLM is launching an audiovisual production curriculum, as this job market is also projected to increase between now and 2029. We prepare incarcerated individuals for careers in growing industries that they otherwise would not have had the skills to qualify for. This, in turn, matches the diverse population of justice-impacted job seekers with the hiring needs of employers.
In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?San Francisco, CA, USA
In which US state(s) will you be operating within the next year?
What is your solution’s stage of development?
Growth: An organization with an established product, service, or business model rolled out in one or, ideally, several communities, which is poised for further growth
Who is the team lead for your solution?
Beverly Parenti, Executive Director & Co-founder
How many people work on your solution team?
- Full-time staff: 21
- Part-time staff: 1
- Contractors: 4
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization?
We encourage justice-impacted people to have a voice in TLM and the work we do. Our apprenticeship program is an opportunity for qualified returned citizens to do so by joining TLM’s staff as academic support reps, who provide technical feedback to our students; remote instructors, who lead live coding lessons on a weekly basis into each classroom; and as members of our reentry department, to support program participants and graduates when they return home. Further, as TLM expands, we are committed to maintaining an equal, or as equal as possible, gender ratio among the students we serve. Currently, TLM is in 17 correctional facilities across the US with 40% of our participant population being 40% female and 60% male. We also actively solicit and incorporate feedback from our students and graduates about TLM’s program as part of our dedication to inclusivity.
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?
A new application of an existing technology
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
TLM’s program encompasses a custom-built technology platform, comprehensive curriculum, and alumni network -- all of which are tailored to best serve justice-involved individuals.
Other entities that address similar problems (recidivism reduction, access to in-prison education, reentry support) lack either the technological component or comprehensiveness that TLM offers.
Further, TLM’s reentry department cultivates our alumni network, providing post-release support and mentorship to graduates of the program. This includes connecting TLM alumni with job opportunities through our employment partners like Slack and Fandom, supporting their pursuit of higher education through our partners like Udemy and Udacity, as well as offering additional resources and guidance from other TLM Returned Citizens who can relate to their experiences.
Other in-prison programs lack either the technological presence, which enables TLM to teach the trade of web development, or the holistic program approach and staff, which allow us to continue support and contact with returned citizens post-incarceration.
Describe the core technology, if applicable, that powers your solution.
TLM has created a network stack and software suite that we utilize to deliver an educational program to our students. TLM leverages a handful of industry software and hardware to support our infrastructure, including Google Cloud Services, Palo Alto Networks equipment, Apple computers, Canvas LMS, GitLab, and various open source applications. The core of our technological offering are the dozens of customizations we have made to the hardware and applications we deploy, many revolving around security and monitoring to ensure the safe, private, and controlled environment in our classrooms.
There are many security concerns in a correctional setting with accessing cloud-hosted resources. We have created an entire platform that compartmentalizes student activity and access by facility-based sandboxes, allowing secure access to resources.
Participating in our program includes: a coding curriculum, live video calls, a help desk, an image repository, a personal git repository, a messaging platform, cloud file storage, HTTPS API endpoints, and a stack overflow and wikipedia clone. All of this is done within a tried and tested infrastructure in correctional facilities across five states, which has earned the trust of half a dozen Department of Corrections.
Originally, we used on-prem servers in each facility with a very clear definition that students could only access the LAN and no externally hosted resources. We have since worked to implement existing technology to create a scalable, next-generation model where students across our classrooms can access “internet-like” resources while still under the secure and safe umbrella required by the correctional-environment.
Provide evidence that this technology works.
Since TLM’s founding in 2010, there has been 0% recidivism among our many alumni who have reentered society. This is a stark contrast to the average recidivism rate in America, which exceeds 60%, indicating that TLM’s solution for combating recidivism works. All of the TLM participants who have reentered society are now either pursuing higher education or full-time employment with companies like Slack, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, VMware, Fandom, and Adobe, among other major entities.
TLM’s technology has also proven to be scalable; since beginning at San Quentin State Prison, the program has expanded to operate in 17 facilities across five states: California, Indiana, Kansas Michigan, and Oklahoma.
Video demonstrating TLM’s program:
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
What is your theory of change?
We believe that the key to breaking the cycle of incarceration starts with in-prison rehabilitation through education, leading to gainful employment post-incarceration. The Last Mile teaches students to build websites and applications, all without access to the internet. The program has served over 650 students to date and boasts a 0% recidivism rate.
Select the key characteristics of your target population.
How many people does your solution currently serve? How many people did your solution serve in 2019? 2018? 2017?
2017: 72 | 2018: 188 | 2019: 349
What percent of the people you served in 2019 were between the age of 15 and 30?
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Expand TLM’s in-prison program beyond software engineering to include a second curriculum devoted to audiovisual production. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects this field to grow quickly over the next decade, and our goal is to introduce a program track that prepares incarcerated individuals to meet the industry’s hiring demands.
Refine TLM’s reentry department services -- our reentry department was established in 2019 and includes a few full-time TLM employees who provide career-oriented mentorship and support to TLM’s returned citizens, helping them secure full-time jobs and navigate reentry. We’d like to formalize and streamline the existing ways we serve returned citizens, and expand the department to further support people after prison.
Further expand TLM’s in-prison program beyond software engineering and audiovisual production; understanding that these two fields might not be a fit for every incarcerated person seeking meaningful vocational training, we plan to continue adding program tracks tied to high-demand fields, such as data and research science, computer network architecture, etc.
Further scale TLM’s program to operate in 50 classrooms across 14 geographically diverse states; by 2024 we anticipate having 5,000 coding students and 1,200 alumni pursuing higher education or gainful employment post-incarceration.
Maintain 0% recidivism among TLM graduates -- to date, none of our participants have been reincarcerated. We hope to uphold this, or keep this number as low as possible, as it indicates TLM’s effectiveness.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
Creating a prison education program with sophisticated technology is a daunting challenge. Prisons are fundamentally analog and hesitant to accept and adopt new systems and strategies. Not only does it require commitment and effort to develop a positive and progressive approach, but the prison industrial complex does not provide any incentives for correctional officers or administrators to implement programs that improve education and training for incarcerated populations. In addition, many states have powerful lobby groups and unions who thrive on the status quo.
As we continue to expand TLM, we anticipate our biggest hurdle continuing to be the education of correctional administrators across the country. We are prepared to continue putting in the time and effort required to help the necessary stakeholders understand TLM’s significant benefits, and that bringing technology into the prison environment should not be concerning or threatening if it is presented with the proper direction and security protocols.
Additionally, the stigmatization of hiring formerly incarcerated individuals can at times be a barrier for TLM. Our ultimate objective is gainful employment for formerly incarcerated individuals and as such, we actively try to build relationships and apprenticeship programs with employers open to hiring TLM grads. Though we do have significant hiring partners such as Slack, Zoom, etc., we need to continue expanding our employer network to open new career doors for returning citizens.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
To date, we have overcome these barriers of education and understanding by building rapport with politicians at the state level, prison administrators, and the incarcerated populations they represent. While TLM has received government grants, we primarily fund our program through private donations and grants. This factor increases the appeal and receptivity of TLM to stakeholders. By offering a program with substantial proven results at potentially no cost to the state, TLM makes a strong case for implementation. With proper funding and support, TLM is positioned to continue scaling our program’s reach.
Similarly, Regarding the stigma around hiring returned citizens, we’ve addressed this barrier by helping employers understand the mass incarceration issue and the societal impact they can fuel by working with us to open new career pathways for those who are justice-involved.
What outcomes data would you like to be collecting that you are not yet able to collect?
TLM has created an Impact Index, a measurement tool for gauging the success of our returned citizens. The index accounts for factors such as full-time employment, above median income, continuing education, community engagement, home ownership, and other common goals. Data was collected from a sample set of 50 participants to establish the model that will continue to evolve as future TLM participants are tracked and evaluated.
With additional resources, outcomes data we would like to collect includes:
Which continuing education programs do and don’t have a direct impact on our returned citizens’ success in pursuing their desired career path
The impact on diversity and success of companies that hire returned citizens
Additional employment experience data, such as returned citizens’ satisfaction with their career path
What type of organization is your solution team?
How many people are on your leadership team? (Of these, please provide the number of individuals from your leadership team that are full time, part time, and volunteer)
6, all are full-time
What is the number of individuals from my leadership team that attended community college for at least one year?
What is the number of individuals from my leadership team that received a Pell grant as a college student?
In what year was your organization founded? How many years have you worked on your solution?
2010, 10 years
Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
The diversity among our team makes us uniquely positioned to deliver The Last Mile’s solution. TLM was co-founded by Beverly Parenti, a serial entrepreneur, and Chris Redlitz, a founding partner of venture investing firm Transmedia Capital, both of whom have leveraged their network of business and technology experts to elevate the program. We employ TLM alumni who were formerly incarcerated at every level of the organization, enabling our decisions to be informed through lived experience. Further, as TLM’s solution encompasses both education and computer coding, our team includes professionals with expertise in both of these areas. Overall, our team has experience in planning, managing, and evaluating rehabilitative programs; we have a demonstrated record of success in overseeing innovative programming within facilities while also adhering to their safety and security protocols.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
Slack, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, FREEAMERICA -- With these entities, TLM co-created Next Chapter, a year-long apprenticeship program at Slack that trains and mentors formerly incarcerated computer programmers.
Udemy, Udacity, O’Reilly Media, Coursera, LinkedIn (Lynda.com), Pluralsight -- TLM connects our returned citizen alumni interested in pursuing higher-education with custom-tailored support from these learning service providers.
What is your business model?
TLM operates the first full stack coding education program inside a US prison. TLM coding classrooms operate in California, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma and Michigan, and with rapid expansion plans to other states. Men, women, and youth are receiving technology training to become software engineers, achieving success that seemed impossible only a few years ago.
Remote Instructors host weekly live sessions on technical concepts that are introduced through the LMS, supplementing the curriculum by providing real world applications for abstract concepts of coding. Remote Instruction allows TLM to reach every classroom at least once a week, and provides a greater enhanced experience for learners regardless of their location. The scalability that results from this remote learning platform enables TLM to grow exponentially without dramatically growing organizational headcount.
TLM’s Impact Index was created to provide funders and state partners a broader spectrum of success metrics resulting from an intense career-focused technology education program. The data points collected include employment rates, income, education, TLM program graduation, community service, and housing, among others. Each data point was assigned a weighted value. The recidivism rate for all of our graduates is 0%.
Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, or to other organizations?
What is your path to financial sustainability?
The Last Mile has been fortunate to have a committed group of funding partners who understand the long term benefits of the program, inside and outside prison. In addition to our funding partners who cover operational costs, TLM also charges each correctional facility fees that cover the implementation of the program, and in most cases, our state agencies cover the cost of the onsite facilitator. The majority of the grant commitments cover two years of operation. The primary TLM funders include Google.org, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Cultural Leadership Fund, Stand Together, Bank of America, The WK Kellogg Foundation, Simon Family Foundation, George Kaiser Foundation, Lobeck Taylor Family Fund, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
If you have raised funds for your solution or are generating revenue, please provide details.
Donations/Contributions (various amounts from multiple donors over the previous 12 months) - $250,000
Grants (multiple grantors) - $1,900,000
Program Service Fees for Classrooms and TLMWorks clients - $1,450,000
If you seek to raise funds for your solution, please provide details.
The TLM annual budget is projected to be $4 million in 2021. The funding will come from existing funders and several new organizations who have expressed interest in partnering with TLM. The scalability of TLM’s platform and the ability to service many locations with a relatively small team, makes TLM one of the most cost effective prison education prisons, and with the one the highest success rates.
What are your estimated expenses for 2021?
Total anticipated expenses for 2020 are $3,933,100 for the entire organization. The breakdown of these costs are:
Program Costs: $2,195,400
Operational Costs: $1,737,700
Why are you applying to the Reimagining Pathways to Employment in the US Challenge?
TLM is applying to this Challenge because we’re committed to empowering a historically underserved population--those who are justice-involved in the US--with the knowledge and skills needed to access sustainable jobs and livelihoods in the new economy. Beyond the challenge of stigmatization around hiring those who were formerly incarcerated, returned citizens are often disqualified from occupations that pay a livable wage because of their inexperience with technology. These hurdles are compounded by the obstacles outlined in the Challenge prompt -- economic disruptions, including COVID-19, and technologies such as artificial intelligence and automation. As of 2019, 75% of formerly incarcerated people faced persistent unemployment during their first year after prison.
We’re eager to work with organizations such as the Morgridge Family Foundation, New Profit, and other Challenge partners that are committed to making employment opportunities more equitable in the US. TLM believes that anyone in prison who has the desire to improve themselves professionally and personally should have the opportunity to do so, from both an ethical and logical perspective, as 95% of people in prison will be released at some point. Building relationships with employers that are open to hiring qualified justice-involved individuals, as well as expanding our program to include additional curriculums and certifications needed to qualify individuals for gainful employment opportunities, is critical for paving new career pathways for people post-incarceration.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?