Behind bars but learning to network

Friday, 6 June 2003, 10:07 AM EST

The Internet bubble may have burst long ago, but you would not know it in the Bollate prison, where inmates, some of whom entered the facility before many people had even heard of the Internet, are studying six days a week to become certified to work on local area networks that run Cisco Systems Inc. hardware.

In a pilot program that is also being tried in Ireland, four inmates are several months into a course that, if completed, will certify them to configure and maintain networks and, the organizers hope, help them find work once they have served their time behind bars.

"The idea here is that a jail should be more than a place where you lock people up," said Lucia Castellano, director of the medium-security prison in this town 15 kilometers (10 miles) north of Milan.

The Bollate prison - which also offers computer, language, theater and school-proficiency courses and has its walls covered in murals painted by the inmates - is no ordinary prison.

If one forgets for a second the thick bars that cover the classroom windows and the Cisco routers near the door, this could be a nondescript classroom in just about any Italian school. There are maps and posters on the wall and computers dispersed around the room.

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