Women inmates at San Francisco jail learn to code

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The push to teach coding skills has extended inside the walls of the San Francisco County Jail with a program so successful it's being rolled out to other jails starting next week.

The program's founders told ABC7 News why they think it could make such a difference.

It's not often students play video games in school and it's even less often when that school is inside a county jail.

Code Combat is the newest addition to the Five Keys Charter School, a school that started in the San Francisco Jail 13 years ago with the goal of giving each inmate a chance at a high school diploma.

"You write code to control your hero, and as you're progressing through the game. you're leveling up your programming skills," said Nick Winter, Code Combat CEO.

The game teaches real programming languages python and javascript.

"We want to empower them, as opposed to let them walk out these doors and then society saying, 'We don't like you,'" said Tyson Amir, educator with the Five Keys Charter School. "If you learn this skill set, you master it, you can create whatever you want for yourself."

For the school, this is just the beginning. Students there are the beta testers. And for them too, this could be the first step in a long journey.

"You want to learn computer science and coding, because that's going to give you the job skills that you would need to say go into the tech industry," Winter said.

It's an industry that's had a profound effect on the world outside.

"We have the tech boom, and some of our people are in here because of the fact that property values are so high. Maybe they lost jobs, so they made some other decisions in order to try to survive," Amir said.

But this could ignite a spark.

"I really hope to do this when I get out. I get out in 50 days, Dec 22, so I'm really excited to go from where I was to kind of being a computer nerd," said one inmate.

The beta testers are all women.

"We've seen that girls actually learn 7 percent faster," Winter said.

And it's gone so well they'll start offering it to men at the Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County in the coming days.
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