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In bringing college classes to more incarcerated people, Colorado officials hope to both enlighten students and cultivate significant social benefits.
The federal government plans to almost double the number of colleges nationwide offering incarcerated people the ability to earn a college degree and to enable them to once again qualify for federal Pell Grants to cover tuition and other educational expenses.
In Colorado, several institutions have indicated interest in joining, and state officials hope they can offer four-year degrees to students. So far, only Trinidad State College in southern Colorado has participated in the federal Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative.
Graduate Demitrius Herron, 23, said the program feels more like a first chance at a good education for many. Herron entered the Youthful Offender System at age 17. During his six-year sentence, he said he took numerous classes, eventually taking advantage of the Trinidad State Second Chance Pell program. He graduated with two associate degrees — one in science and one in the arts.
He said the program takes people at their lowest point, “and someone says to you, ‘Hey, here’s my hand. Let me help you up.’”
Numerous studies have shown the benefits of prison education, including lowered social costs and recidivism rates. About 90% of incarcerated people will be released from prison, said Melissa Smith, Colorado Department of Corrections assistant director of prison programs.