Python in Prison: how open source can change a criminal justice system

Jessica McKellar

Python 3 Teaching

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The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with over 2.2 million people behind bars in our prisons, jails, juvenile facilities, and detention centers.

The system is racist and ineffective, but how do we change something so big and so economically entrenched, especially as software engineers?

Let’s look at how Python classes in US prisons are transforming rehabilitation and re-entry, and talk about what we can do as individuals and as an open source community to dismantle an unjust system.

Type: Talk (45 mins); Python level: Beginner; Domain level: Beginner

Jessica McKellar


Jessica McKellar is a founder and the CTO of Pilot, a bookkeeping firm powered by software. Previously, she was a founder and the VP of Engineering for a real-time collaboration startup acquired by Dropbox, where she then served as a Director of Engineering. Before that, she was a computer nerd at MIT who joined her friends at Ksplice, a company building a service for rebootless kernel updates on Linux that was acquired by Oracle.

Jessica is a former Director for the Python Software Foundation and PyCon North America's Diversity Outreach Chair. For her outreach efforts in the Python community, she was awarded the O'Reilly Open Source Award.

Open source meets criminal justice reform in Jessica’s work with The Last Mile, a job training and re-entry program that has implemented the first computer programming curriculum inside US prisons. She teaches Python at San Quentin State Prison in California, hires formerly incarcerated software engineers, and uses that bridge between the tech industry and prisons to get people activated and acting for decarceration.