PENDLETON -- U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited the Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility Wednesday to see a “second chance” program aimed at teaching incarcerated youth to become software engineers.
DeVos spoke to nine teens in The Last Mile -- a one-year program that hopes to end recidivism by teaching computer skills that may lead to tech jobs or further education. Indiana was the first state outside of California to adopt the coding program. It’s now in five state correctional facilities.
The visit, DeVos said, connects to the Trump administration’s broader work on criminal justice reform. DeVos wants to convince Congress to make a temporary federal grant program permanent to possibly expand prison education programs, like The Last Mile.
The coding program at Pendleton does not receive federal funds -- it is privately funded.
“This confirms everything that this administration has continued to stand and fight for, for giving individuals a second chance,” DeVos said. “And the opportunity to learn computer science skills is so timely. And you can tell, just listening to these young men’s stories and experiences, how excited they are about their futures.”
During a short visit at the facility, students showed DeVos coding projects they created -- from games to website design. A stack of coding textbooks was piled at most student’s work stations. Internet access is not available.
Tyson Berry, a 17-year old, says the coding class makes him consider designing video games. He and two other teens want to attend Eleven Fifty Academy, a coding school in Fishers.
“A lot of people in this program have, you know, adult charges and it goes to their adult record,” he said. “With this program it opens up a lot for us and shows us there is still something we can do in this world to make a change and not, just, you know, be a number.”
DeVos asked the teens how the education department could help them. One suggestion was to expand tech education programs into public schools as a means to provide at-risk youth a career path.
DeVos said she wants to make the Second Chance Pell grant permanent. The Obama administration created the grant for a small number of institutions to allow federal aid for students behind bars. Traditional Pell Grant subsidies are banned from use in prison education.
Gov. Eric Holcomb brought The Last Mile to Indiana last year. Indiana Women’s Prison became the first state facility to offer the class. A $2 million grant from Google.org, the company’s charitable arm, funds the program at Pendleton.
The Last Mile began in 2010 at San Quentin State Prison in California 10 years ago. It is now in 15 facilities in five states for men, women and juveniles.
Chris Redlitz, the founder, spoke to the DeVos and the class Wednesday via live video. He said no graduates from the program have reoffended after release.
DeVos’ visit to Pendleton is part of a two-day stop in the state. Later in the day, the secretary was at the joint Indianapolis Colts and Cleveland Browns training camp at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield.
Wednesday was DeVos’ fifth visit to Indiana as education secretary. Her ties to Indiana were deep before her 2017 appointment by President Trump.
As chairwoman of the American Federation for Children she oversaw more than $1.3 million in Indiana political contributions to expand private school vouchers, education tax credits, and charter school access.