Lassana Magassa receives Google Policy Fellowship

iSchool Ph.D. candidate, Lassana Magassa, to work at New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative (OTI) investigating digital inequality in prisons.

Established in 2008 and offered to fewer than 20 students each year, Google Policy Fellows are selected based on a candidate's passion for technology and their academic achievements, research and writing skills.

Fellows spend the summer working on Internet and technology policy issues at select public interest organizations which are "at the forefront of debates on broadband and access policy, content regulation, copyright and trademark reform, consumer privacy, open government, and more."

Google and OTI offer Magassa the opportunity to work with prison communities to identify and profile prison-related internet computer technology issues which will result in articles, presentations, and reports for national policy-makers and key legislators.

This work is absent in the digital divide literature and so it will add to existing research on a variety of populations including,women, the elderly, homeless people and the poor.

"Everyone in society has to have a baseline level of technology skills, whether you want to be a painter or a programmer for Microsoft," said Magassa about his work. "Having technical skills and abilities will increase the chance for prisoners to live law-abiding lives post-release."

In addition to better preparing prisoners to succeed personally post-release, there is a very real economic impact to society for that success or failure. It costs an average of $45,000 to $50,000 per year to house an inmate and three-quarters of those released are back in prison within three years.

Studies have shown that providing education to prisoners has some effect, but that traditional education is no longer enough to thrive in our knowledge-based economy.

"Once ex-prisoners are out in society, it is too late to get training because of the immediate need to get a job, pay the bills, find housing, or pay child support," Magassa notes. "While they are incarcerated, why not use that time to invest in skills training?"

Magassa received a bachelor's degree in Computer Science (2003) from Saint Paul's College and a master's degree in Library and Information Science (2007) with a concentration in School Library Media Centers from Queens College - City University of New York.

While working at the Harlem Community Justice as the web developer for the Youth Futures Network, he established conflict resolution programs at New York City public schools. In 2007, he took the job of web content specialist at the Association of National Advertiser's Marketing Insights Center (now Marketing Knowledge Center).

Magassa decided to go back to graduate school in order to have a greater impact on society and the community of his birth - Harlem. Prisons represent only one segment of his overall interest, which is how mechanisms of social control (e.g. firewalls, institutions, policies, provisions) impact the digital divide.

Social control examples include, firewalls schools have in place to prevent students from visiting certain internet sites or countries impose penalties to prevent or discourage people from conducting certain practices online.

"I'm interested in the larger role of social control in reinforcing some of these digital inequalities that already exist."