Georgetown Prison Scholars Increase Digital Literacy with MIT Web Design Program

Last semester, Scholars at the D.C. Jail earned Georgetown credit through courses in sociology, personal finance, and — for the first time — computer science, thanks to a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) program working to help incarcerated students increase their digital literacy. 

Brave Behind Bars, an initiative based out of The Educational Justice Institute at MIT, has offered an introductory computer science and career-readiness program for incarcerated students in New England since 2021. 

“Computer skills and programming are all so important in the modern workplace,” the program’s co-founder Marisa Gaetz said. “It’s really hard to imagine applying for a job even without knowing how to use a laptop, so I really think it’s helpful for the students to gain that digital literacy.”

After hearing about MIT’s initial pilot program, U.S. Magistrate Judge Zia M. Faruqui (LAW ’04) approached Brave Behind Bars about bringing the course to the D.C. Jail.

Two years later, the initiative’s leadership was able to collaborate with both the Prisons and Justice Initiative’s Prison Scholars Program and Georgetown’s Department of Computer Science to offer the program as a computer science course accredited through Georgetown.

“The Department of Computer Science was enthusiastic to work with Georgetown’s Prisons and Justice Initiative and Brave Behind Bars to help facilitate the Web development course offered to the Prison Scholars at the DC Jail,” said Professor Mark Maloof. “We were impressed by the course content and the instructor’s qualifications. It is a valuable addition to the prison education program as it provides an introduction to incarcerated individuals to highly sought after technical knowledge and skills.”

The course is 12 weeks long, covers the basics of HTML, CSC and JavaScript, and includes a capstone project in which students create their own websites. Gaetz said that students at the D.C. Jail were driven, curious, and created final projects that reflected their personal experiences. 

Greg, pictured on the left, was a student in the course.

“One student decided to work on a project where he developed a website that compiles resources for people who are going to prison or jail and what they should do with their pets, which is something I had never thought about before,” Gaetz said. “It’s cool to see them really get the opportunity to see those things into the world.”

For Gaetz, prison education programs allow incarcerated students to not only gain a new breadth of knowledge, but also build confidence and perseverance. 

“A lot of times the students going into the course don’t see themselves as coders or techy people and really don’t have this career or education path on their radar,” she said.“But by the end of the course they have an actual website that proves to them that they can learn things and overcome challenges that maybe they didn’t see themselves doing before.”

In August, the Brave Behind Bars course at the D.C. Jail was featured in an MSNBC segment
Prison Scholars