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Google, Nonprofits Partner to Introduce Inmates to Technology

Incarcerated individuals in some Texas prisons will no longer have to wait until their release to learn how to use the latest technology — like smartphones and other communications tools — through a newly formed program.

(TNS) — Individuals who have served prison time previously had to wait until their release to quickly learn how to use smartphones, conduct Zoom calls and other means of high-tech communication.

That in turn created an extra challenge in a tech-savvy world, as employers conduct their job application processes online.

Now, inmates won't have to wait until they're released to learn the ins and outs of today's technology. Rather, they can learn such digital skills prior to their scheduled release dates, due to a partnership Google formed with seven Texas nonprofits, including the Digital Workforce Academy, which has locations in Port Arthur and Orange.

"It's important... That's where we are right now. You look at the digital divide, especially with that particular audience itself, it's absolutely critical that they have those type of skills," said Melvin White, executive director of the Digital Workforce Academy.

According to a news release, over 500 nonprofit organizations nationwide applied to receive support from the "Grow with Google" fund, which started in 2017. Google selected seven Texas organizations, including Digital Workforce Agency, based on their history of helping people who've been impacted by incarceration.

White said the intent is to fill gaps between people who may not be technologically literate. The partnership also is meant to help those who may struggling to reintegrate into a work environment.

"There are many, many outcomes that can come out of this," White said, adding there's also a focus on long-term equity for families.

The program provides digital skills training and job placement support for more than 679,000 Texans.

"We just saw this real opportunity to grow that base of who we can serve through (that) partnership," said Tia McLaurin, senior manager for Grow with Google. "We really believe there's an urgency for this work. There are more than 1.4 million unfilled jobs in Texas alone that require a skilled workforce. In Google's program, formerly incarcerated individuals will help those gaps and prepare Texans for jobs of today and tomorrow."

McLaurin said the training centers around using online job search platforms, such as Monster and Indeed; online networking and résumé building; online safety, such as recognizing and protecting against phishing scams; and using Google Docs, online budget spreadsheets and mobile calendars. She said such skills factor into preparing one to go into entrepreneurial work so they can start their own business.

"When you think about the speed of technology... There could be a little change (every day)... It's just one blip of how we want to make sure people can have the skills they need," McLaurin said. "It runs the gamut of people that have spent the shortest amount of time incarcerated... or people that have had extensive amounts of time (behind bars)."

McLaurin said the program also allows family members to stay caught up with the latest technology and make the transition even smoother for their formerly-incarcerated loved ones.

Google invested $4 million in funding for entities such as the Digital Workforce Agency to collaborate with correctional facilities in teaching these digital skill sets to those who are preparing to leave prison.

McLaurin said the funding would be allocated based on a city's needs, adding that Jefferson County's needs may differ from the Dallas area.

©2022 the Houston Chronicle, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.