State Partnering Colleges with Prisons; U.S. Experiment Studies Learning’s Effect on Inmates

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

By Stephen Simpson

Luther Miller, a student at Shorter College in North Little Rock, talked to his fellow general psychology classmates on Wednesday about self-defense mechanisms and the theories of Sigmund Freud as part of their final exam preparation.

“We learned how some people will use things to escape. For example, a lot of us in here used alcohol as an escape and, for some, it’s how we got here,” Miller told the room filled with fellow inmates at the Arkansas Department of Correction’s Wrightsville Unit.

Two days later, several state and federal officials, including Gov. Asa Hutchinson and U.S. Sen. John Boozman, gathered inside a recreation room at the Wrightsville facility to watch 25 inmates receive their Associate of Arts degrees from Shorter College.

“You have achieved something that you can take with you through life as a sense of accomplishment and pride,” Hutchinson said.

The event carried the same pomp and circumstance as a normal college graduation. Songs were sung, diplomas were given out, families cheered and punch was served at the end — except guards lined the walls instead of celebratory banners.

The graduating class was part of the the experimental Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative, of which Arkansas has been a part for the past two years.

The program is testing whether participation in educational opportunities increases after access to financial aid for incarcerated adults is expanded. It is also examining how waiving the restriction on providing Pell Grants to individuals incarcerated in federal or state prisons influences academic and life outcomes.

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