Hannah Hill was planning to become a prison chaplain to help women caught in the unremitting cycles of the justice system. But when she taught herself to code to build a simple website, she realized that there might be a more direct, albeit experimental, way she could help the current and formerly incarcerated population.
“I realized that I don’t like coding necessarily, but I could have gotten a job in it if I wanted it… so if I could do that, who else could do it?” Hill shared with Hypepotamus last summer.
The organization’s goals were to break Georgia’s high rates of recidivism — where about a third of the state’s incarcerated find themselves back in the system within a few years — by teaching women in prison the technical skills they would need to hold stable, well-paid tech jobs when they got out.
Hill had even found a partner to guarantee jobs to these women — systems technology firm Arke, based in Atlanta.
Unfortunately, the program hit a snag with the Georgia Department of Corrections mere days before the first cohort was set to begin. Hill was frustrated, but undeterred, and determined to find a way to begin providing curriculum as soon as possible.
“We found a home in Georgia’s Juvenile Justice system,” Hill tells Hypepotamus. She began working at an all-girls juvenile detention center in Macon with a class of six girls, aged 17-20, who were selected out of 45 applicants.
Though not initially her target audience, the juvenile justice system has its own bleak statistics, says Hill. She cites that 80 to 90 percent of juveniles in the system will end up back in prison facilities, either juvenile or adult, in their lifetimes.
And since these girls can be as old as 21 when they leave the facility, they often are expected to support themselves and secure jobs, without ever having lived independently and with few resources to help.
Hill says the girls have been enthusiastic, committed learners.
“We’ve not gotten into the nitty-gritty, and I was concerned we would see dropouts,” says Hill. “But the girls show up, every time. They get stuck, but when they have that ‘aha!’ moment, it’s this consistent self-esteem boost for them throughout.”
Hill plans to begin another class with juveniles this summer, while the current cohort continues studying more advanced skills and serves as mentors to the new class. Each girl is also assigned an outside mentor to encourage their studies and hopefully assist them when they leave the facility.
When they do complete their sentence, Code/Out guarantees paid internships (with benefits, if they need them) for those who finish the class. Besides Arke, Mailchimp has now signed on as a partner.
“We’ve tiered our approach, because getting out at 18 years old with a $50K salary, and you’ve never lived on your own before, is not a recipe for success,” says Hill.
After the six-month internship, she hopes the women will find a home in these companies.
“In a market where the average coder only stays at a company for two to three years, these women will be loyal, long-term employees,” Hill says. Code/Out caters to the specific skills their partner organizations require to ensure the women are set up for success.
Hill is also leading the class on a field trip to Mailchimp and Turner to get them excited about what their future could hold.
“Mailchimp is proud to partner with Code/Out to help these women pursue meaningful careers in tech and build a more accepting and inclusive workforce in Georgia,” said Farrah Kennedy, Mailchimp’s COO, when announcing the partnership.
Hill has been financing Code/Out through grants and fundraisers. They obtained hardware for the course through Microsoft and collected $14,000 in a fundraising push on Giving Tuesday.
Though Hill is highly optimistic and enthusiastic about their work with juvenile justice, and still seeking corporate partners for the young women who will graduate Code/Out, she hopes to one day be able to accomplish her original goal of working with incarcerated women.
“There’s so much we could do there,” says Hill. “Eighty percent of women who go into the Georgia Department of Corrections have at least one dependent, but the average is four [dependents].”
“When I ask them the salary they’d need to be happy, they say $12 [an hour],” she says. “We could help them more than double that.”
Code/Out’s next fundraiser is this Tuesday, March 26, at Wrecking Bar Brewpub.