‘LaunchCode’ program helps the incarcerated find employment in tech industry

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – A St. Louis nonprofit is collaborating with the Missouri Department of Corrections to help those with criminal convictions get back on their feet by offering free tech education and job placement.

LaunchCode initially helped individuals from nontraditional backgrounds find reliable careers in the technology field, but has now expanded its mission to work with those who may need a second chance in life. 

Five years ago, LaunchCode and the DOC began talks to start piecing things together. The two entities began their pilot programs at Potosi Correctional Center and Missouri Eastern Correctional in Pacific. In 2020, the program received a grant from Ascendium Education Group, a nonprofit education philanthropy group, and decided to start a full-time program in Algoa Correctional Center in Jefferson City, scheduled to begin this May. 

Haley Shoaf, LaunchCode vice president of Justice Programs, told The Heartlander the program has provided job placement in the technology field to over 3,000 people without college degrees or traditional credentials. 

Shoaf says the most recent class of incarcerated individuals provided LaunchCode with 22 students, 17 of whom successfully graduated the program. Additionally, she says program statistics have shown a decrease in repeat offenders.

“Studies show that access to employment is one of the key drivers,” Shoaf said. “Our hope is that we can make contributions to reduce future incarceration.”

Shoaf notes that those with felonies or criminal backgrounds may have a tougher time finding a career, even with a newfound education.

“We recognize that people who are justice-involved, whether they are currently incarcerated, (in) home incarceration or previously incarcerated are one of the populations discriminated against when it comes to employment and often have a difficult time landing (a) livable wage in upwardly-mobile careers.”

According to Shoaf, second-chance employees typically make the best employees and usually offer the best retention rates. Potential employers of LaunchCode students also can give prospective workers 90-day work contracts as interns to see if they are a good fit for their company.

“Employers have a lot to gain and very little to lose by engaging in this program. I think once you meet people face to face and can really get a feel for what they provide, that often is one of the best teachers in terms of evangelizing the concept,” Shoal said.

Those interested in learning more about LaunchCode can visit their website here

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