What You’ve Missed: Returning Citizens & the Digital Divide


Orca Students 2 edit

Melvin Morris (left) and Joseph Gant are Byte Back PC for Beginners students at the Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizen Affairs. “Coming from prison, this class has really boosted my confidence,” Melvin said.

By Yvette Scorse, Communications Manager

Technology changes fast. Ten years ago, Gmail was just starting to take off, smartphones were just coming out, and we still had slots in our computers for floppy disks.

Now imagine you’ve spent the last 10 years in prison. You would be behind, struggling with basic computer tasks, like emailing or filling out an online job application.

10,000 People We Can’t Leave Behind

Among the many obstacles returning citizens face, the digital divide should not be ignored, which Teresa Hodge, co-founder of Mission: Launch, made clear at “Out of Jail, Into Society,” a recent Washington Post Live panel discussion.

“The world was moving and advancing, and I was being left behind,” Teresa said about her own experience after she entered prison in 2007. The more than 10,000 people released from prison each week face similar situations.

Digital Literacy Leads to a Living Wage

Ban the Box“Folks who are not using technology, their income reflects it,” Teresa said. “There are not enough opportunities, beyond the construction and restaurant industries” for returning citizens.

The technological gap that returning citizens encounter is linked to their potential to find employment, earn living wages, and avoid returning to prison. Communities need to support their success.

These opportunities need to extend to everyone, not just to youth, Glenn E. Martin, founder and president of JustLeadershipUSA pointed out in the “Out of Jail” Washington Post discussion. “We recycle everything else in this country, we should recycle human beings also,” he said about giving people beyond age 24 second chances.

Partnering with ORCA to Offer Second Chances

This is just why Byte Back has partnered with the DC Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizen Affairs (ORCA) since 2012. We share a common goal of providing pathways that lead returning citizens to living-wage jobs.

Info Returning Citizens“To have a pathway that leads to success, you need to have basic computer skills. It’s vital in the society we live in,” said Shae Harris, deputy director of ORCA. And if you’re gone for three or more years, chances are that you’ve missed out on new technology.

“I haven’t worked in a while. I know that this [class] will help me with job searching,” said Joseph Gant, a Byte Back student, taking class at ORCA.

Joseph is right. Today, if you want to apply for a job, you better learn how to use email and attach your resume. This is one of many essential skills returning citizens learn from Byte Back’s PC for Beginners class hosted at ORCA.

“Coming from prison, this class has really boosted my confidence. I no longer fear the computer, and I know that these skills are essential,” said Melvin Morris, a Byte Back student at ORCA.

In the past three years, Byte Back has welcomed more than 300 returning citizens to our computer courses, and in 2014-15, 11 percent of Byte Back students were returning citizens.

Melvin is one of many students who are taking advantage of a path to a second chance. He plans to continue his tech education, acquiring skills to get an office job, earning a certification, and even going on to starting a career in repairing computers.


What’s Next? Take Action!

For Everyone

For Returning Citizens

  • Byte Back classes will help you gain computer skills that prepare you for a successful career.
  • Review your rights protected under the Fair Criminal Record Screening Amendment Act of 2014. If a potential employer has violated this act, you can file a complaint here with the DC Office of Human Rights.

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