No one wants to go to jail, but once they get there, many people decide to use the time they have to improve themselves. That’s a mission a group of 9 inmates at Walker State Prison in Georgia clearly took very seriously. These men recently attended a closed graduation ceremony to celebrate earning Associate’s degrees in General Education, a major milestone in a project aimed at breaking the cycle of incarceration that plagues many inmates.
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These students were the first to participate in Georgia State University’s Prison Education Project (GSUPEP), a program which provides college classes through Perimeter College in Rock Spring, Georgia. The program began in 2016, and this is the first class to graduate after earning a degree in prison.
To obtain their degree, the inmates attended classes held at the prison and taught by professors from Perimeter College. They all completed 60 credit hours of coursework, which is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
The participating inmates didn’t just complete all of the classes necessary for their degree… they totally crushed them!
Nine men are making history tomorrow as the first-ever class of Georgia State University Perimeter College students to complete their degrees and graduate while incarcerated. Learn more about Georgia State’s Prison Education Project here:https://t.co/PtorLUP5Yn pic.twitter.com/VmeXo32cGK– Georgia State University (@GeorgiaStateU) May 4, 2023
All 9 of the graduates had a GPA of at least 3.7. Three of the men achieved highest honors with 3.9 to 4.0 GPAs, and six earned high honors with GPAs of 3.70 to 3.89.
Patrick Rodriguez is the director of Georgia State University’s Prison Education Project. The program also holds a special place in his heart because he was once incarcerated himself. He couldn’t be prouder to see these inmates bettering themselves while in prison.
“Our students are showing what people who are incarcerated are capable of doing,” he stated. “I think that there’s a lot of stereotypes around incarcerated people, but what this does is shines a light on what the possibilities are. This is super important because it provides our students with the opportunity to access a degree that they can then utilize when they come home.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by Georgia State President Dr. M. Brian Blake at the commencement ceremony.
“Not only have these students demonstrated that they are critical thinkers by completing a degree, but they’ve also shown tremendous character to seek education and follow it through to the end,” said President Blake. “The degree they rightfully earned can never be taken away.”
Education reduces the rate of recidivism, or inmates returning to incarceration. Participants report feeling more confident in themselves after earning a degree, and say they’re more determined than ever to get a good job when they are released.
“I learned several things about myself throughout the course of completing this degree, but the most important to me is that I do have worthwhile thoughts, ideas and insights,” said one new graduate. “My long-term goal is to use the skills I’ve learned and developed to make positive and meaningful contributions to humanity. My immediate goals are to help others reach their education goals and to help them learn how to make better decisions.”
Leaders at GSUPEP is hoping to expand the program to 5 more prisons in Georgia, and he hopes other state university systems will follow their lead to provide this opportunity to their inmates. What a positive way to invest in the futures of incarcerated individuals!
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