First set of SC inmates to graduate with associate’s degree through Second Chance Initiative

Graduation cap and gown
Graduation cap and gown(AP)
Updated: Dec. 9, 2019 at 8:02 AM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Five inmates at Evans Correctional Institution in Marlboro County will earn their associate’s degrees. It’s South Carolina’s first in-prison graduation through the Second Chance Initiative with the U.S. Department of Education.

About five years ago, Northeastern Technical College and Evans Correctional Institution teamed up to apply for a grant with the U.S. Department of Education. Today, the college is one of only about 65 across the country that’s been approved to take part in this experimental program.

The Second Chance Initiative allows select schools to offer Pell grants to people incarcerated in state or federal prisons, mostly targeting inmates who are likely to be released within five years. Upon completing the application process, Pell grants are provided to cover tuition fees, books and schools supplies. Unlike a loan, grants do not have to be paid back.

The instructors travel to the facility to work with the participants on site.

Monday, five inmates will cross the stage in a graduation ceremony at Evans Correctional Institution, and walk away with an associate’s degree in business marketing.

“Northeastern Technical College’s mission is to train the workforce for Chesterfield, Marlboro and Dillon Counties, and them being a resident of our county we felt that it was in our mission statement to offer the programming for inmates here and we encourage the inmates to stay in the community and actually take local jobs and we’ve worked with local industry to provide job opportunities for them after they’re released,” Northeastern Technical College president, Kyle Wagner said.

Those behind this Second Chance Initiative say prisons with college programs have fewer incidents of violence behind bars. In the end, the hope is to transform more inmates into contributing citizens to better the entire community.

“Everybody deserves an education because everyone deserves to move up the social ladder and access to education, skills training, job placement – all of that is key for people to be successful in our economy. 95% of all inmates incarcerated will be released in the future. So, our intention is, let’s get them access to education and help them support their families whenever they’re released,” Wagner said.

Organizers say access to postsecondary education in prison can reduce recidivism by up to 48% – that’s the rate in which those convicted of a crimes return to prison. Officials say, lowering this rate ultimately leads to safer communities and less of a financial burden for taxpayers.

Wednesday’s graduation ceremony begins at 10:30 a.m. at Evans Correctional Institution in Bennettsville.

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