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DC Corrections Pilots Cloud Certification Course

The Washington, D.C., Department of Corrections has implemented a pilot program to help individuals who are incarcerated gain access to cloud certifications that will help ensure they earn living wages upon their release.

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A pilot program implemented at the Washington, D.C., Department of Corrections (DOC) has been working to equip incarcerated individuals with a cloud certification so they are more likely to receive living wages upon release.

The majority of jobs now require digital skills, and training programs are increasingly being made available nationwide. For those who are incarcerated, the rise of access to tablets in correctional facilities — as seen in the NYC Department of Correction and across Texas — has helped expand access to digital skills training opportunities.

The first cohort of the D.C. pilot program, implemented with the support of American Prison Data Systems (APDS) and Amazon Web Services (AWS), achieved an 85 percent pass rate on the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam.

“So, [the] Certified Cloud Practitioner credential is sort of the building block for a lot of other credentials that you can build on in the IT field,” explained APDS co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer Arti Finn. “We had to think really creatively about what type of credential was valuable in the marketplace.”

Dr. Amy Lopez, former deputy director for the D.C. DOC, who led the implementation of this program, explained that it was also important to ensure that the job the facility was training for would be one available to individuals with a felony record and those without a four-year degree. Another factor that needed to be considered was whether available jobs would pay enough to support the cost of living and victim restitution costs.

Because DOC was already using APDS tablets in the jail — the purchase of which was funded by a grant — the partnership was a logical next step to ensuring individuals are able to find a career to both sustain them and keep them from future involvements with the justice system.

The correctional institution environment offers limited opportunities for in-person learning, and because of this, Finn underlined the vitality of the tablets to the program’s implementation. Much of the work is completed virtually through a learning management system.

The program is a 10-week course, and though a lot of it is self-directed and accessible through the tablets for 11 hours daily, it also involved regularly occurring dedicated classroom time to enable individuals to work in person, creating a blended learning experience.

“[Virtual learning technology] was a game changer for learning and for connecting to community and for being prepared for real life work experiences,” said Lopez, noting participants’ ability to message instructors or staff as needed for real-time instruction on their tablet. “It was an invaluable tool in the cloud practitioner course.”

DOC also opened its computer lab to allow participants to access the Internet to use resources AWS made the facility aware of that help gamify some of the skills.

A tutoring opportunity even emerged through this program, enabling one individual who was incarcerated to create an in-person tutoring group to leverage his IT background to help others.

Finally, there are additional levels of training and certifications individuals can acquire upon release independently, and data shows that people are continuing to participate, Finn noted.

The program is unique in its use of technology, but also because research from the Prison Policy Initiative found only 17 percent of people incarcerated in this country are currently participating in any kind of educational programming, making this program “a revolution,” Finn said.

However, despite being revolutionary, the program can still be replicated elsewhere.

As Finn explained, DOC has expressed interest in expanding the program and other jurisdictions have expressed desire to establish similar programs as well.

Lopez said that the trial and error of first testing it as a pilot program gave DOC the flexibility to understand what worked, the existing hurdles and security concerns, as well as how to ensure access to the assessment exam and other operational details.

“A lot of jurisdictions or institutions will say it’s just not possible … it’s absolutely doable,” she said. Her advice to other institutions is simple: “Be open minded about the possibilities.”

Lopez also recommended that a good place for other facilities to start is looking into getting access to tablets as a learning and communication resource.

She also underlined the value of working with APDS as they are an organization that works to bring technology and education to incarcerated individuals at no cost to participants.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.