Google expands program to help train formerly incarcerated – TechCrunch

Last April, Google launched Grow with Google Career Readiness for Reentry, a program created in partnership with nonprofits to provide job readiness and digital skills training for formerly incarcerated people. As part of an expansion, Google today announced it will invest just over $8 million in organizations helping people ‘impacted by justice’, including formerly incarcerated, to enter the market. work.

Continuing its work with nonprofits including The Last Mile, Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), Defy Ventures, Fortune Society, and The Ladies of Hope Ministries, Google says $4 million of new investments from approximately $8 million will go to Grow with Google Career Skills, aimed at helping those impacted by the justice system develop career specializations. Nonprofits that Google has not previously partnered with will be able to apply for up to $100,000 in grants to “deliver Google’s Reintegration Skills Training to their community.”

Meanwhile, Google.org, the charitable arm of Google, will provide $4.25 million in grants to help state governments reduce barriers to employment with Code for America’s Clear My Record tool, which uses an open source algorithm to examine records and produce permission requests. Other grants from Google.org will focus on connecting people “affected by justice” to jobs through the National Urban League’s Urban Tech Jobs program and the University of Washington’s Justice through Code program. Columbia.

In an email interview with TechCrunch, Maab Ibrahim, head of racial and criminal justice at Google.org, said Google still intends to scale the Career Readiness for Reentry program. “There is real urgency to this work – more than 640,000 people are released from prison every year in this country, and almost all of them could benefit from the digital skills and job training we offer through our partners,” she added. “We co-created the program with five nonprofit organizations that have a proven track record of developing and delivering high-quality job training to returning citizens. After implementing the program in 2021 and getting feedback from partners, we’ve seen what’s really working well and how we can have more impact.

The formerly incarcerated community faces many challenges, including a lack of digital skills. Inmates can go more than a decade without access to technology like smartphones and with limited knowledge of the internet. For example, data from the US Department of Education from 2014 showed that 62% of correctional education programs nationwide did not allow inmates to access the Internet.

Finding a job or writing a CV using web tools is beyond the knowledge of some former inmates. According to a recent University of Kansas study, many women released from prison struggle to learn basic skills such as protecting their privacy online. This lack of literacy also hampers the ability of ex-convicts to take advantage of government services, which often require online applications.

Ibrahim says programs like Career Readiness for Reentry can make a difference with a program designed to be integrated into nonprofit partner programming. “Given Google’s technological expertise, one of our focus areas is helping people build digital skills,” she said. “[W]We believe that business, nonprofits, and government working together can be a powerful force for good. That’s what we’re trying to facilitate here.

Studies have shown that digital literacy can reduce recidivism or relapse into crime. But there are reasons to be skeptical. When asked how many of the 10,000 formerly incarcerated people reached through the career readiness program for reintegration last year had found jobs, Ibrahim hesitated.

The efforts have been thwarted by the pandemic, which has forced several of Google’s partner organizations, including The Last Mile and Defy Ventures, to switch from in-person to distance learning. A Google spokesperson later told TechCrunch that out of a survey of 400 Career Readiness for Reentry participants, 75% said they were employed or enrolled as a student somewhere in the end of the program.

Ibrahim says the expanded program has the potential to have lasting impact through a new integrated team of Google.org fellows who will work with nonprofits or civic organizations to create “tech solutions.” One of their first projects is an “end-to-end” automatic records erasure service built on the existing Clear My Record that they will work with Code for America to design, pilot and implement.

Google’s lofty goal is to help 100,000 formerly incarcerated people gain job skills by 2025. To achieve this, the tech giant will need to facilitate a massive expansion of access to digital literacy programs in federal and state penitentiaries. Underscoring the challenge, New York State offered three programs with some degree of digital literacy training that peaked at a combined 1,400 spaces as of March 2020. There are more than 77,000 people incarcerated in New York City’s correctional systems of the State and the City of New York.

“For many, criminal records can be a life sentence of poverty, creating barriers to employment, housing, education and more,” Ibrahim said. “There are so many great organizations working in this space, but we know that no organization will reach everyone in need…As we continue to refine and evaluate this work, we hope we can expand it further in the years to come.”

Ryan H. Bowman