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Incarcerated students in special program become first to earn degrees from a top 10 university

The prisoners participated in an educational program organized by Northwestern University and worked through the pandemic to achieve excellence.

Incarcerated students in special program become first to earn degrees from a top 10 university
Cover Image Source: YouTube | Northwestern University

Once a person returns to society after serving time in prison, it's hard for them to blend in easily. It's difficult for incarcerated people to find jobs and get a proper education or housing once they complete the duration of their prison sentence. However, the Northwestern Prison Education Program or NPEP is ensuring that prisoners in the USA can get a second shot at life by providing them with necessary education and ultimately awarding them degrees.



 

According to NPEP's official website, the education program is "committed to providing the best education to incarcerated students in prisons, jails and youth centers across the state of Illinois and is helping to build a vibrant and engaging community." NPEP is using the transformative power of education to pave the way for these prisoners to have brighter futures. The graduating class of 2023 is one of the four cohorts consisting of 20 incarcerated students.



 

According to The Guardian, about 400 imprisoned people applied for the education program during the latest application cycle and only 70 were interviewed. The university revealed that the 2023 graduating batch will be the first incarcerated students to receive bachelor's degrees from one of the most prestigious universities in the US. During the pandemic, when most of the universities had transitioned to remote learning, the students continued to finish their required lessons from prison.



 

The students in prison were given scanned assignments and printed class materials as well as limited access to technology by the staff of Northwestern University so they could continue their learning process. “What this cohort lived through, it’s really nothing short of extraordinary,” Jennifer Lackey, the director of NPEP, told Axios. Some of the students in this batch also faced health challenges during the pandemic as they made serious efforts to finish the requirements to receive their degrees.



 

“Your mind can get into a dark, deep depression. Your mind is what’s imprisoned,” stated. Broderick Hollins, an inmate. He added that he had to teach himself thermodynamics after missing class because he contracted COVID-19. He enrolled in the program aiming to work on his mental health as well. Hollins revealed in an interview published on Northwestern University's website that "chemistry was the most impactful course for him."

“This is a very difficult thing to do, let alone while you are incarcerated,” said Rob Scott, an adjunct professor at Cornell University and also the executive director of Cornell Prison Education Prep (CPEP). “The men and women that get into college programs go even double duty on putting aside some of the few things that would give them relief in their daily lives in prison to focus on school work.”



 

Just like NPEP, CPEP has also been providing facilitated classes in correctional facilities in New York. “Like Northwestern, we’ve analyzed the situation and seen that we’re laying waste to a huge population here by making them permanently incapable of restoration into the society that we have,” Scott said. "As Pell Grant eligibility was expanded this year for incarcerated people, more colleges and universities will probably create higher education programs to earn bachelor’s degrees in prisons."

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Gül Işık
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Gül Işık

It is anticipated that 760,000 individuals will have access to federal funding for educational programs that are offered in correctional facilities. According to Scott, giving prisoners the necessary education can reduce crime rates, but it also signifies a larger cultural movement. “Is our goal to simply imagine that they’re a piece of waste that we can throw away? Because that’s what we feel like the current system does,” Scott added. “Or are we trying to find some path to restoration and to [a] functioning civil society? To me, that’s all this is.”



 

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