Brit prisoners to be kept on the straight and narrow with JavaScript and CSS

That's the sound of the men, working on the blockchain gang

The UK's Department of Fun has gone public with plans to get prisoners skilled up for a world of code upon release rather than a life of, er, crime.

The plan will see carefully vetted offenders sent through a four-stage process aimed at securing work behind keyboard, screen and mouse.

The first stage of the course, devised by CODE 4000, has volunteers and industry experts taking prisoners through the joy of JavaScript and HTML before dispensing the cruel and unusual punishment of a plunge into the world of CSS.

The opportunity for a short, C#, shock has sadly been missed.

Offenders with the courage of their convictions are also taught the ins and outs of databases and shown how to work Git. Obviously, some re-education will be needed when it comes to terminology such as stash.

Subsequent stages will have the newly minted techies working on real-world projects for external clients (and hopefully generating some additional cash for the initiative) before heading out on day release and finally securing full time jobs.

The normal time range for the programme is between four and 12 months, depending on the requirements of those enrolled.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is behind the scheme, which had a very limited trial in HMP Humber, a "Category 'C' Resettlement prison" on the east coast of Northern England. A spokesman for DCMS told El Reg that of the 70 offenders who had taken part in the programme, none had gone on to reoffend.

Probably too busy trying to work out why a misplaced padding turned the layout of a web page into an incomprehensible mess.

The reoffending aspect is, of course, key. The programme is modelled on the Last Mile project, an initiative started in California's San Quentin State prison, which has worked with 460 "students" and enjoys a 0 per cent recidivism rate (compared to the US national rate of 55 per cent).

Data published in 2018 puts the reoffending rate in the UK at 29.6 per cent for adults and 43.1 per cent for juvenile offenders. A project to give offenders options that don't involve a return to crime upon release is therefore laudable.

The Register checked what vetting would be done on the miscreants and were told by the spokesperson that suitability would be based on guidance from the prison. However, the spokesperson added that "Anyone convicted of sexual or online fraud offences will not be allowed on the course." Murder is OK then?

Certainly, many devs will have encountered the odd coding problem that would benefit from a battering with a blunt instrument.

The funding comes from a £1.2m pot of cash aimed at getting underrepresented groups into jobs. The £100k award will see the scheme expanded to HMP Holme House, just outside Stockton-on-Tees, reaching more than a thousand more offenders.

The DCMS spokesman told us that "Code 4000 have ambitious plans to expand this programme and are working with a women's prison and a youth offenders institute and hope to open workshops in these institutes by the end of the year."

Success will be measured by metrics such as the numbers completing the programme, those who gain employment and, of course, that all-important reoffending rate. ®

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