New course teaches programming to female inmates at Arizona state prison

By Bridget Dowd
Published: Friday, October 27, 2023 - 3:15pm
Updated: Friday, October 27, 2023 - 5:27pm

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inmates stand together in orange jumpsuits
Televerde Foundation
An instructor at ASU is teaching women in prison to use a coding language called Python.

The first group of eight female inmates at the Arizona state prison in Perryville has completed a programming course through Arizona State University.

Collin Sellman has been teaching graduate students for about 10 years. Now he’s running a startup funded by the National Science Foundation. 

Initially, it was focused on building digital learning tools for students without home internet access, but Sellman realized it could help others too.

“This is part of a bigger skills program focused on women, particularly in prison and giving them skills that can serve them in the job market upon their release and they felt that they had a gap in computer programming," he said. 

That program is the Televerde Foundation, a nonprofit organization providing professional development and workforce training programs to currently and formerly incarcerated women.

"Even if they don’t go into a technical career track, they know that they can do something hard because programming is not easy and they know that if they apply themselves they can see results out of that," Sellman said.

After teaching the inmates how to use the coding program Python, Sellman set up robots in his garage that were controlled remotely from the prison. 

"Before I had worked with these students, I really had a naïve view of 'well, people made bad decisions and that's why they're in jail' and I have a much better appreciation of the complex nature of the situations they came from," Sellman said.

He said the students were more engaged than his usual university classes, and he’s looking forward to teaching the course again.

Education Arizona Prisons