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Programming for prisoners

I went back to Inside Books for a few more hours on Sunday and because of one prisoner's request learned that their computer section is awful. It was like Goodwill on a really bad day: old manuals for obsolete versions of business software and forty-seven flavors of aging web design books. I can't imagine that any of them would be remotely useful to a prisoner, and certainly not the best use of the $1/lb. that it costs the cash-strapped Inside Books Project to ship books.

That raises a couple of questions:

Do any prisoners in Texas have computer access? If so, what kind? (Network access is prohibited by TDCJ rules, so those web books are useless.)

And is there any kind of book on programming which could be useful to someone without a computer at hand?

On the second point, I suppose Knuth's Art of Computer Programming would fit the bill -- for a bright, mathematically-minded and highly motivated reader.

But the prisoner in question wanted "computer programming for dummies or something of that sort". I'm sure the prison system has its share of bright people but few highly educated ones -- one source says only 31% of Texas inmates have high school diplomas compared with 71% in the general population. So is there a "Knuth for Dummies", so to speak, which teaches programming concepts and how to think algorithmically, written for a general audience and without requiring a computer?

If not, that could be an interesting open-source education project.

toys 2004.05.17 link


Last night I filled two requests that suprised me, one for A+ certification and one for HTML design. Whether the prisoners have access to computers or not they seem to value reading up on them. One of the Inside Books regulars said he thought some prisoners had access to vocational classes on computer topics. So I guess the computer section isn't a total waste after all -- although I'd still dump the Quicken manuals and mid-90's InterWeb yellow pages.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2004.05.31
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