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The Digital Skeptic: How the Web Puts Ex-Cons Back Behind Bars

RYE, N.Y. (TheStreet) -- Drahcir Parson is, yet again, just hours away from breaking the law.

"I was going to get a package to deal drugs to survive," Parson told me and about 80 others at a remarkable meeting here in Westchester. All are connected by the New York Theological Seminary's Master of Professional Studies program, an accredited postgraduate educational organization that aims to take career criminals and give them legitimate careers.

"But now, here with you, I am saved for a week," Parson said.

Nobody here blames Parson. They know the long odds he faces. More than half the men here are just like him: felons. Many have done serious time at prisons such as the Eastern Correctional Facility or Woodbourne Correctional -- and even the big house, Sing Sing in nearby Ossining. These are part of a sprawling national network of correctional facilities, some managed by large, privatized facility operators including the Corrections Corporation of America (CXW) and The Geo Group (GEO).

(Full disclosure: I am donating time to a new spinoff program that teaches software coding and Web development to those related to this masters program.)

Parson is no dummy. This former street-level dealer got his GED during his first week in prison and earned an associate's degree from no less than Bard College while behind bars.

But this prison success story is struggling in today's take-no-prisoners digital age.

"An associate's degree just doesn't do it anymore," he told me. "There are no jobs.

What Parson is facing is not unique, say those who offer support and training to worthy ex-inmates. Julio Medina is the founder and executive director of the New York-based Exodus Transitional Community, which offers support services for hundreds of newly released prisoners every year. He told me there was a time trained ex-inmates such as Parson could at least land menial entry-level jobs doing business basics such as bookkeeping or data entry.

But in today's fast-moving, race-to-the-bottom digital economy, disruptive, market-crushing software and Web services have bled such opportunities from the job market.

"QuickBooks took all those bookkeeping jobs away," Medina said.

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